Don't blame frackers for U.S. water shortages
Ceres highlights several areas where water competition has become intense. In Colorado's Weld County, for example, the 1.3 billion gallons of water used for fracking in 2012 was equivalent to 15 percent of the amount used in the county for residential consumption.
But the biggest problems are in sparsely settled rural counties with small populations that were already suffering from water shortages before the sudden increase in demand from oil and gas producers.
Ceres spotlights DeWitt County (population 20,000) and Karnes County (population 15,000) at the heart of the Eagle Ford shale play in Texas, where the amount of water being employed for fracking is equal to or exceeds the amount being used by residential users and which are experiencing high levels of water stress.
Farmers Versus Frackers
The major flaw with the Ceres report is that it fails to put the amount of water used by frackers in proper perspective.
The amount of water used in fracking sounds like a lot until compared with total water use in the United States.
The United States used 349 billion gallons of freshwater every day in 2005, the latest year for which comprehensive data is available, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) ("Estimated use of water in the United States in 2005" published 2009).
The biggest users of freshwater were coal, gas and nuclear power plants, which use prodigious volumes for once-through cooling systems.
But nearly all of their needs are satisfied by withdrawals from surface sources such as rivers and lakes. While the water is technically "withdrawn" from the source, most of it will be returned in a similar (though slightly warmer) state, so it is not really "consumed."
After power plants, the biggest single use of water is for irrigation, which includes crops as well as golf courses. In 2005, irrigation used 144 billion gallons of fresh water every day, of which 75 billion came from surface sources and 54 billion were pumped from underground aquifers.
In other words, frackers used the same amount of water in 2011-2013 that U.S. farmers typically withdraw from underground aquifers every two days.
The real competition is not between frackers and households, but between oil and gas producers and farmers.
In comparison, the daily consumption of fresh water by industry (17 billion gallons), mining (2.3 billion gallons) and homes and offices (48 billion gallons) is modest.
Target Profligate Users
By comparing fracking with the residential water supply, the Ceres study makes the frackers' share look larger than it is and ignores the real problem, which is overconsumption of groundwater supplies by the farming industry.
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