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Friday, December 27, 2013

Does fracking-enabled fuel switching save water?

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin have estimated that fracking for natural gas actually saves water in the drought-prone and water-stressed Lone Star State - a counterintuitive conclusion for a process that consumes four to six million gallons of water for every frack job.


The study's gross calculation of water savings may be correct, and the answer to the question posed in the title of this blog post is yes - IF water use is narrowly defined. However, there are important nuances to consider here.  Consumptive water use for power plant cooling ultimately returns the water withdrawn to the overall water cycle - though it clearly has localized impacts. But as much as 80 percent of the water used in the fracking process remains underground - permanently removed from the water cycle.  I have yet to see an analysis of the cumulative impacts of that fact on the overall water cycle.

Clearly, the impacts of hydraulic fracturing are complex. This UTA study points out that end-uses need to be considered.

The finding - significant as it is - doesn't negate the myriad other water-related risks associated with hydraulic fracturing – from earthquakes to impacts on public health.

Nor, in my view, does it undermine the business case for waterless fracking.

  

4 comments:

  1. "The finding," you wrote, "....doesn't negate the .... impacts on public health." But what about the impacts on public health caused by those big dirty coal plants? What about the impacts on public health caused by not having enough energy to heat homes and businesses in winter? Until we get to a point when our energy needs are fully met with zero pollution or "impacts on public health," we are forced to choose the lesser of available evils. Fracking seems to be the obvious winner there.

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  2. Thanks for reading and commenting. I've blogged quite a bit about the public health impacts of coal. See http://johnhquigley.blogspot.com/2012/08/pa-is-3-in-exposure-to-air-toxic.html, http://johnhquigley.blogspot.com/2013/07/can-natgas-save-lives.html, and http://johnhquigley.blogspot.com/2013/06/autism-tied-to-air-pollution-can-shale.html.

    I agree that we need to make energy choices, and that there are no perfect ones. The case for fracking is strong - and can be even stronger if it is better regulated.

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