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Fracking Wastewater Spikes 1,440% in Half Decade, Adding to Dry Regions’ Water Woes

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Source:  desmogblog

Shale drilling and fracking often occurs in areas already suffering from water stress. Credit: Duke University.

By Sharon Kelly 

Between 2011 and 2016, fracked oil and gas wells in the U.S. pumped out record-breaking amounts of wastewater, which is laced with toxic and radioactive materials, a new Duke University study concludes. The amount of wastewater from fracking rose 1,440 percent during that period.

Over the same time, the total amount of water used for fracking rose roughly half as much, 770 percent, according to the paper published today in the journal Science Advances.

Previous studies suggested hydraulic fracturing does not use significantly more water than other energy sources, but those findings were based only on aggregated data from the early years of fracking,” Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, said in a statement. “After more than a decade of fracking operation, we now have more years of data to draw upon from multiple verifiable sources.”

The researchers predict that spike in water use will continue to climb.

And over the next dozen years, they say the amount of water used could grow up to 50 times higher when fracking for shale gas and 20 times higher when fracking for oil — should prices rise. The paper, titled “The Intensification of the Water Footprint of Hydraulic Fracturing,” was based on a study conducted with funding from the National Science Foundation.

Even if prices and drilling rates remain at current levels, our models still predict a large increase by 2030 in both water use and wastewater production,” said Andrew J. Kondash, a PhD student in Vengosh’s lab who was lead author of the paper.

More Water than Oil

The shale industry has been heavily focused on amping up the amount of fossil fuels it can pump per well by drilling longer horizontal well bores and using more sand, water, and chemicals when fracking (which raises the costs per well and, as DeSmog recently reported, raises risks of water pollution).

But the water use and wastewater production per well have been growing even faster than the per-well fossil fuel production, the researchers found, labeling the water demand and wastewater growth “much higher” than the oil or gas increases.

The researchers studied data from over 12,000 oil and gas wells representing each of the major shale-producing regions in the U.S.

Their findings are particularly troubling news for arid areas like the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico, where underground water supplies are already taxed by residential and agricultural demand, and where fights over water use are brewing.

On average, a Permian Basin well used 10.3 million gallons of water in 2016, according to a San Antonio Express-News investigation earlier this year — more than double the average per-well demand just a few years ago.

A Waterfall of Waste

The wastewater problem has attracted the eye of industry analysts, particularly in the Permian.

One of the biggest risks facing operators today is the issue of produced water,” wrote Ryan Duman, a Wood Mackenzie senior energy analyst, describing how in parts of Texas and New Mexico, wells can produce up to 10 gallons of wastewater for every gallon of crude oil. “The sheer volume of water is unprecedented.”  READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE HERE.

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As Industry Pushes Billion-Dollar Fracked Petrochemical Projects, State Regulators Struggle To Keep Up

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Source:  desmogblog

“Pollution from petrochemicals is already a major issue, Food and Water Watch noted in a report last year on the coming build-out. “In 1999, when Houston’s ozone levels were the highest in the nation, the state of Texas conducted several studies that found large industrial leaks,” that report found. “The worst originated from cracker plants producing ethylene and propylene.”

By Sharon Kelly

Fueled by fracking in the region, petrochemical and plastics projects in the Ohio River Valley are attracting tens of billions of dollars in investment, but as plans for this build-out hit the drawing boards, signs already are emerging that state regulators are unprepared for this next wave of industrialization. And the implications of their inexperience could mean major threats to the region’s health and environment.

One of the projects currently underway, an underground natural gas liquids (NLG) storage site — designed to support the construction of several huge petrochemical complexes — is undergoing review by state regulators who have little experience with NGL storage facilities of its size.

“We had to juggle a lot of regulatory input in a relatively undefined setting since there are few regulations in Ohio, and that really goes for Pennsylvania and West Virginia as well,” Jonathan Farrell, a project manager with Civil and Environmental Consultants, told attendees at a petrochemical industry conference on June 18.

That lack of well-established state regulations harkens back to the early days of the shale gas rush, when state regulators struggled to keep up with the emergence of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling technologies. The rush to drill while safeguards were still being designed and implemented led to inadequately treated toxic waste being dumped into drinking water supplies for millions of people and problems with radioactive waste that continue to this day.

Dreams of a New Petrochemical Corridor

Shell’s ethane cracker petrochemical plant under construction on the banks of the Ohio River. Credit: Ashley Braun, DeSmog

Today, the petrochemical industry is dreaming big about prospects for manufacturing plastics, styrofoam, vinyl, chemicals, and fertilizers from cheap ethane and other natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale — marketed as currently the cheapest in the world.

The goal? To build a new petrochemical corridor in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and the surrounding region, one second only in size to the Gulf Coast’s — and one that could bring along with it the public health and environmental impacts that have given rise to that region’s reputation as a “cancer alley.”

I think the magnitude of some of these projects that we’re talking about here are hard for a lot of us and a lot of our communities to wrap their head around,” Chad Riley, CEO of The Thrasher Group, an oil and gas field and pipeline services firm, said at the June 18-19 conference. “I really think that this region lacks a bit of an understanding about what the potential could be here.”

Fracking for Plastics

Shale drillers in the Marcellus and Utica have long talked up the potential profits to be made from drilling for “wet gas,” or wells that produce large volumes of natural gas liquids like ethane, propane, and butane. Those liquid fossil fuels offer additional sources of revenue, making the shale drilling industry better able to cope with depressed prices for natural gas, which is mostly methane, that the wells primarily produce.

For the shale industry, the need to create demand for those products is fueling the push to create new petrochemical and plastics plants that can buy up the liquids coming from fracked wells. The Appalachian region currently produces roughly a third of the domestic supply of NGLs, or roughly a million barrels a day.  Read the rest of this article HERE.

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