OPINION: Stop Singling out Fracking for Draining Water Supplies


California, Nevada, and much of the southwest are experiencing major droughts.

So when Golden State lawmakers killed a bill that would have banned the practice of hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — environmentalists cried foul. These “fractivists” claim the controversial drilling technique sucks up limited water supplies and exacerbates droughts.

That claim is nonsense. Fracking represents a tiny fraction of the nation’s water consumption. There’s no reason to single the practice out by banning it altogether.

Fracking involves injecting a pressurized water mixture into shale rock to free up the embedded oil and gas for extraction. This process typically uses about 2-4 million gallons of water per well.

That amount seems huge. But relative to total water consumption in the United States, it’s miniscule. New York City uses more than 4 million gallons of water every six minutes! Overall, fracking accounts for only 0.3 percent of freshwater consumption nationwide.

Meanwhile, less critical activities account for much more water consumption. Golf courses account for 0.5 percent of all freshwater consumption in this country. And the amount of water used in car washes every day is almost 100 times more than the amount used to frack a well.

If lawmakers choose to single out fracking for draining limited water supplies, the economic effects could be devastating. Fracking-related projects add about $283 billion to U.S. GDP every year. Fracking has empowered a dramatic expansion in the American energy industry, leading to hundreds of thousands of new jobs and billions in new growth.

It would be preposterous to suppress fracking while allowing obviously less critical activities to continue unencumbered. Fracking plays a crucial role in state economic development. Keeping the putting greens crisp does not. Regulators shouldn’t single out the former if they’re willing to ignore the latter.

What’s more, fracking also brings significant yet overlooked environmental benefits. Researchers at the University of Texas have determined that the amount of water saved producing electricity at a natural gas plant rather than a coal plant exceeds the water used to frack a well by as much as 50 percent.

Fracking can, of course, be made more water-efficient. And energy companies have every incentive to do so. Saving water saves money. Trucking water to drilling sites can cost upwards of $400,000 per 100,000 barrels transported.

And the energy industry is already embracing conservation measures. Fracking operations increasingly use recycled water and brackish water — a mixture of freshwater and seawater. Recycled water is in heavy use in the Marcellus Shale, where roughly 90 percent of flowback water is reused.

Currently, about 16 percent of fracking fluids nationwide include reused water. According to the respected energy consulting firm IHS, that figure is set to double over the next decade. Singling out fracking as a threat to our nation’s limited water supplies is completely spurious. And banning fracking while allowing golf courses and car washes and other non-essential activities to continue would defy all logic.

Chris Faulkner is chief executive officer of Breitling Energy Corporation and author of the forthcoming book “The Fracking Truth”