Water and Fracking

Water and Fracking

Water is back in the news for two reasons.

  • First, the amount of water used and extracted from wells has increased the probability of earthquakes.
  • Second, the possibility of water shortages has raised concerns about the availability of water for fracking.

Both concerns could impact shale oil production, which has grown to 7.5 million barrels per day in 2018 and is expected to grow by another half million barrels per day in 2019.

About 9 million gallons of water are used when fracking a well, but this can vary widely. Fresh water has been the main type of water used, though brackish water has been used extensively in Texas.

As fracking has become more efficient with laterals extending to over 10,000 feet, more water has been used.

Water plays a key role in fracking. At very high pressures, water shatters the shale which releases the oil and natural gas trapped in the shale.

Explanation of graphic.
Graphic shows drill pipe being bent so that long laterals can be drilled in the shale that is typically a mile below the surface of the ground and below any aquifer. Wastewater is stored in pits before disposal. The inset shows the cracks with sand that will keep the cracks from closing. Multiple wells can be drilled from the same pad in different directions and at different levels to reach different shale types.

Sand, suspended in the water, props up the cracks and keeps them open. Without the proppant, i.e, sand, the cracks would close and prevent the oil and natural gas from escaping the shale.

Water is the medium that delivers the sand to the cracks. But the water must be at exactly the right consistency to allow the sand to reach deep into the cracks, which is where chemicals enter the picture.

If the water is too thin, the sand will sink and not reach the cracks in the shale. If it’s too thick, the sand could clump and not reach deep into the cracks. In addition, chemicals are added to make the water slippery, allowing it to flow more readily through the drill pipe and deep into the cracks.

Shale drillers have developed precisely the right mix of water, sand, and chemicals to get the best results from each well.

An early concern about fracking was the use of chemicals that might pollute drinking water. In addition, the water that’s extracted from the well will bring a myriad of pollutants from the fracked well, including radioactive minerals. Extracted water poses a threat if it isn’t disposed of carefully.

The amount of water extracted from each well is greater than the amount of water pumped into the well, as residual groundwater is removed along with the fracking water when it is ejected from the well.

Extracted water has been disposed of by injecting it thousands of feet underground in wells specially designed for this purpose.

Disposal wells have been in operation for decades since all wells, conventional or otherwise, will extract water from virtually every well.

Because of the long-term use of disposal wells, it came as a surprise when pumping the used fracking water underground in disposal wells caused earthquakes.

Most of the earthquakes have been in Oklahoma with an increasing number in Texas.

Steps were taken to mitigate the problem by restricting the quantities of wastewater and the pressures at which it was injected into disposal wells.

While the vast majority of these earthquakes have been small, some have caused considerable damage.

The potential for earthquakes and the possible shortages of fresh water have resulted in the development of water treatment plants so that fracking water can be reused.

The treatment must eliminate toxic materials, chemicals, and bacteria sufficient to allow the use of the treated water in fracking operations, but not to make it usable for drinking.

Increasingly, there will be greater use of treated water when fracking wells.

Using treated water will reduce the amount of water that must be disposed of in disposal wells, thereby reducing the threat of earthquakes, while also helping to ensure sufficient water for fracking.

Fracking has resulted in the United States becoming energy independent when also considering oil imported from Canada and Mexico.

Fracking has improved America’s strategic position in the world, allowing it to export natural gas and oil. LNG exports to Europe have the potential to reduce Russia’s influence on Europe.

Fracking has been a boon to the economy, keeping consumer prices low, especially for natural gas, while fostering economic growth.

The interest in using treated water has grown rapidly and there will be an Expo in Irving Texas next month where thousands will have an opportunity to learn more about water treatment.

Using treated water will help ensure the continued success of fracking.

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5 Replies to “Water and Fracking”

  1. Great article, Donn!

    Our Kern County land will be eventually used to provide solar electrical power to one of three huge electrical utilities, most likely PG&E that is operating under bankruptcy after they admitted that their equipment ignited the huge fire in Paradise, CA.

    Oil and gas fuels must continue to clear the hurdles of earthquakes due to fracking.

    The other hurdle is the contamination of well-water.

    I’m selling the 40-acre parcel once I review and sign the agreement with 8minutenergy.com, probably at the end of this month. Coincidentally, my MN daughter, works for USBank, the bank that provides the funds for paying the Property Tax. Zion Bank Funds the seller agreements.


    • Ok, great. I know you have been contemplating the sale for some time. I’ve deleted the amount since others might read your comment
      As for well water contamination. That first came up in 2012 in Pavillion Wyoming but was later disproven: The tests were contaminated.
      The next time the issue arose was in Pennsylvania, but it was shown that natural contamination was the cause. Eventually, the EPA issued a statement that fracking had not caused well contamination, though some people objected to the statement. It’s probably still an issue, but I am not aware of any situations where contamination has been proven.

  2. Small earthquakes when fracking water is injected into deep strata should not have been a surprise. Water lubricates faults through strata promoting slippage, whereas dry does not.

    • They probably shouldn’t have been a surprise but they were. I don’t know how many studies there were about lubricating faults prior to this, but it seems obvious now.