Increased fracking water use in Ohio: Compromising watershed integrity?

According to the FracTracker Alliance, hydraulic fracturing in Ohio is using an increasing amount of water, which could compromise watershed integrity.

COLUMBUS – The water footprint of hydraulic fracturing is increasing in Ohio and around the nation, according to new findings from the U.S. Geological Survey.

A USGS report found an average horizontal gas well consumed more than 5 million gallons of water in 2014, up from around 177,000 gallons in 2000.

Melanie Houston, director of water policy and environmental health with the advocacy group Ohio Environmental Council, says the fracking of Marcellus and Utica shale formations in Ohio put the state at the higher end of the spectrum of water use.

“It’s needed to be used at a higher percentage in the fracking fluids that are created, so unfortunately that means that we’re going to be tapping lots of different water resources from reservoirs and lakes to municipal water supplies to small streams and tributaries to feed this industry,” she explains.

Houston says there are concerns about potential contamination, as the water used in fracking is combined with chemicals and is disposed into deep underground injection wells. But some well operators are working to capture and clean post-fracking water for reuse.

Ted Auch, Great Lakes program coordinator at FracTracker Alliance, says he’s not surprised by the findings because his research found that fracking has used up to 7 percent of available water from the Muskingum Watershed.

He says he’s troubled because the number is likely to exceed 10 percent in the next two years.

“In good years when it’s raining cats and dogs like it is right now, there is excess water,” he states. “But that excess water buffers that watershed against drought in subsequent years.

“If you keep pulling water out and putting it down in the geology underneath, you are really compromising the integrity of that watershed.”

The length of drilling wells is expected to increase, which Auch contends along with inadequate pricing of water will also deplete the resource.

“There’s no incentive to use less water,” he points out. “As a matter of fact, there’s an incentive to ramp up water demand when your number resource is priced so cheaply relative to its real cost.”

Some in the industry say fracking uses significantly less water than many other processes, and the increased recycling and reuse of water will further reduce the use of water resources.