The U.S. is expected to become more water-stressed in the coming years as population grows and the planet heats up. Right now, California is in the midst of a drought crisis and its reservoirs are at a historical low. With water supply so limited, the amount we use to get oil and gas out of the ground becomes more of an issue.
That’s why these new maps from the sustainable investing and business nonprofit Ceres are important. They examine the extent to which hydraulic fracking activities for oil and gas extraction in the U.S. and Canada intersect with water-stressed regions. Fracking is already controversial, but as water needs get worse, these companies could be exposed to more risk, as could the communities they are drilling in.
The maps, based on water use data from the nearly 40,000 oil and gas wells that are tracked by the website FracFocus.org, show that nearly half (47%) of all the wells were situated in areas with “high” or “extremely high” water stress. (The World Resources Institute defines “extremely high” water-stress as areas where 80% of available water resources are already accounted for.)
They also show that more than 55% of all U.S. wells are in areas that are experiencing drought, while 36% in the U.S. are in areas already experiencing depletion of groundwater resources.
Fracking often accounts for less than 2% of any given state’s water demands. But the impact can be larger at the local and county level where drilling activities are concentrated, according to the report. For example, Texas’s Dimmit County had the largest volume of water use for fracking in the country, at about 4 billion gallons. Colorado’s Garfield and Weld counties and Texas’s Karnes County were the highest-used counties in the country that were also under “extreme” water stress.
In general, Texas is the state that the report calls “ground zero” for water availability risks. Water use related to fracking could double in the next 10 years, all while aquifers continue to get depleted, the population grows, and droughts intensify. It’s not that fracking alone will cause problems, in other words. It’s that these states will need to make tough decisions about how to balance the resources that fracking techniques make plentiful–oil and gas–with another one–water–which is going to be increasingly precious.