(Grand Rapids, OH) Ohioans are beginning to realize that unconventional shale drilling uses a great deal of water, permanently ruining it for other uses. But what they may not know is fracked gas and oil wells in Ohio are turning out to be less productive over time, with more water needed so the effects of water usage are rising. Now, each time a Utica well is fracked in Ohio, over seven million gallons of water is needed on average per well. This volume of water needed is steadily increasing
as the long drilled laterals increase in length. As more and more water becomes necessary per unit of gas or oil produced, the cumulative effects are being seen. Very little water is recycled by the industry for re-use; most fracked water is lost to the watershed and beyond forever as it is turned into concentrated toxic and radioactive waste.
The numbers are staggering. With only 691 of the wells issued drilling permits by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) fracked so far and many more permitted and projected, the water loss to the Ohio River basin is expected to be 18.5 billion gallons in the next 5 years. There are few regulatory protections for the water in Ohio. ODNR requires only reporting of water withdrawals; the agency does not assess the effects of the loss of water, and so does not intervene to protect from environmental and public health impacts of this level of water consumption or contamination by industry waste.
The industry also tends to underestimates water usage in its reporting to the ODNR. For instance, in Harrison County, the actual amount used for fracking was 714,010,470 gallons compared to the estimated 587,864,044 gallons. That is an under estimation of 126,146,426 gallons for just this one county. As of 9-6-14 there were 50 wells being drilled, 63 wells drilled, and 82 more wells permitted, so water usage will more than double in Harrison county.
Harrison is not the worst county. In Noble County, of the 284,523,240 gallons consumed for fracking, 210,891,256 gallons were used in just one year. There are still 53 permits for just one driller awaiting approval in this same county. A different driller used 105,413,224 gallons for this same time period (March 2013 – March 2014). A single well used 22,139,168 gallons of water to frack. An additional 97,673,766 gallons were destroyed by fracking in just June and July of this year, making a total of 413,978,246 gallons lost from a single county’s water sources in 14 months.
The numbers are increasing exponentially. Estimated withdrawals from the Lake Erie Basin totaled 30,703,480 gallons needed for permitted frack wells. From the Ohio River Basin, 13 billion, 853 million gallons of water are reported as needed for fracking. Even though this amount of freshwater consumption is huge, the numbers are most likely understated and are increasing as long lateral lengths increase and more wells are permitted.
Paul Rubin, a New York hydro-geologist and environmental consultant warns, “Public waters should not be provided to the gas industry. The concept that this is a ‘beneficial use’ of these waters is seriously flawed. Any use of public waters that will assuredly lead to the long-term contamination of the state’s aquifers, waterways, and reservoirs and should not be advocated in any way whatsoever. Public health is a major and very real concern.” Rubin’s warnings are supported by depictions of migratory pathways of frack fluids intersecting with groundwater flows. These figures show that groundwater and gas industry contaminants steadily move toward our major aquifers and water supplies, often well below thousands of feed of bedrock (references at http://fwap.org/shale-drilling-destroys-regional-water-resources/).
Not only does fracking itself consume vast amounts of freshwater, the massive amount of waste that is generated as a result must be disposed of in dumps and injection wells. For the first half of 2014 Ohio injection wells disposed of 5,279,341 barrels of waste from operations in Ohio and 4,554,747 barrels imported from other states. Steady migration of toxic fracking and waste-water fluids from gas and injection wells threaten groundwater and surface water as well, especially those directly under reservoirs and valley bottoms where major population centers have developed. Reservoirs such as Clendening, Leesville, Piedmont and Seneca Lakes leased for fracking by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) and proposed fracking under the Ohio River could cause widespread toxic contamination of public drinking water sources over time – not only with toxic chemicals and radioactivity, but from the concentrated salts contained in frack waste.
The impact is cumulative as the frack waste disposal problem grows. So far, 221,732,322 gallons of frack waste generated from within Ohio and 191,299,374 gallons from out of state have been disposed of, making a total of 413,031,696 gallons of toxic and radioactive frack waste that has been injected into Ohio’s underground geology. Toxins within these fluids will contaminate the water we and our grandchildren require far into the future.
Concerns that some of this toxic waste from fracking and injection wells will migrate into groundwater and surface waters used for drinking water are well founded. Just recently, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released information documenting 243 cases of water well contamination caused by fracking with many others still under investigation
Whether from leaking gas wells due to faulty casings or fracking itself, facts are the process of horizontal hydro-fracking does cause water contamination. The public should not be confused by semantics in published reports potentially intended to mislead by differentiating only the moment of fracking itself that causes the pollution (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/landmark-
A recent peer-reviewed report stated, “Noble gas isotope and hydrocarbon data link four contamination clusters to gas leakage from intermediate-depth strata through failures of annulus cement, three to target production gases that seem to implicate faulty production casings, and one to an underground gas well failure.” (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/09/12/1322107111). Another report concluded, “Even in a best-case scenario, an individual well would potentially release at least 200 m3 of contaminated fluids. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120806093929.htm).
FracTracker.org continues to compile data showing the increasingly significant impacts of water withdrawals from fracking. The results of their detailed work are publicly accessible at http://www.fractracker.org/2013/12/water-demands/ for the Muskingum River Watershed analysis and at http://www.fractracker.org/2013/01/ohlakes/ showing Ohio lakes under threat. According to Ted Auch, PhD, FracTracker Ohio Program Coordinator, “What we are seeing already is a trend that can result in devastating impacts upon entire watersheds. First, already fragile ecosystems will be impacted very detrimentally, and if this trend continues according to the projections of the fracking deployment in Ohio, human and other industries’ needs for water will most likely be severely affected. We predict a regional water crisis at this rate of destruction.”
Freshwater usage is increasing. According to Dr. Auch, “The increase in lateral length accounts for 40% of the increase in freshwater consumption, so now freshwater is up from 4.88 million gallons average per Utica well fracked to 7.27 million gallons today. Additional water is used to increase well production. As water use goes up, the cost of this valuable resource consumed by fracking is only .0027 the cost of the entire fracking operation. Water is a cheap way to increase well production – a disposable commodity used by the industry without constraint that in no way reflects its real worth.”
There is a very limited, finite amount of freshwater on earth and not enough of it to be destroyed in such quantities. Lea Harper, Managing Director of Fresh Water Accountability Project (www.FWAP.org) continues to track the changes to the waterways in South-east Ohio as the impacts from fracking become more apparent. She is alarmed that the area is already seeing degraded wetlands and loss of surface flow to the area’s smaller streams. “What we have here is a perfect storm whose effects will be realized once it is too late. What we see is only the above ground effects, groundwater is also being tapped to be sold for fracking from private and corporate water wells.
The cumulative effect of degraded water resources because of such extreme loss of water to a watershed can be projected from what we see already. Pipelines are proposed to withdraw from reservoirs and the Ohio River to extract millions of gallons of freshwater every day for fracking. Plus the remaining water is under threat from future contamination due to leaking wells, chemical migration in groundwater, spills and deliberate dumping by the industry. Unless action is taken now to protect Ohio’s valuable freshwater supplies, costs will go up, and people will get sick. This is already occurring in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Our children will wonder how we could be so callous to cause them to be exposed to toxic and contaminated water and the ensuing costs that will be required of taxpayers to re-mediate the industry’s damage, if that is even possible. As with the obvious effects we are seeing from climate change, the time is now to do something to protect our water or consequences will be severe.”
Toledo Attorney Terry Lodge added: “What we are seeing already is a trend that can devastate entire watersheds in Ohio and elsewhere. If fracking continues as projected, all other uses for water – for industry, agriculture, support of life – will likely be harmed. What people may not realize is that fracking destroys water for good. Billions and billions of gallons of clean freshwater removed from the water cycle forever and turned into contaminated waste. Remaining water can be poisoned beyond any ability to re mediate. This water can never be replaced. “When it’s gone, it’s gone for good.”
This press release and supporting information will be sent to all members of the Ohio General Assembly and Governor Kasich requesting swift and decisive action to protect Ohio’s valuable water supplies from the one-time consumptive use for fracking and the cumulative impacts of future water contamination by the industry already shown to take place in other states.