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'Things Could Get Ugly': Fracking Set to Escalate US Water Wars

Nearly half of fracking happens in places short on water

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

A tractor cuts down drought stricken corn, Tuesday, July 31, 2012. (Bloomberg/Getty Images)

A new study released Thursday shows that a "significant portion" of fracking, a water intensive process, is happening in already water-stressed regions of the United States—most prominently Texas and Colorado, "which are both in the midst of prolonged drought conditions."

As Grist reports Friday, fracking will likely escalate "the West’s water wars" as farmers and homeowners now have to contend with drillers in already drought-stricken regions.

Grist reports:

A new report from nonprofit Ceres (which maintains a neutral position on fracking in general) reveals that nearly half of the country’s fracking wells are located in water-stressed regions — in particular Texas and Colorado, where 92 percent of fracking wells are in extremely high-water-stress regions. Ceres compiled its report using data from the World Resources Institute — which considers an area extremely water-stressed if 80 percent of its available water supply is already allocated for municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses — and, a voluntary national registry of fracking wells’ locations and water usage.

FracFocus shows that between January 2011 and September 2012, the 25,450 wells in its database used 65.8 billion gallons of water, or the amount of water 2.5 million Americans use in a year. Because the site doesn’t have data for every single well in the country, fracking’s total water impact is likely even higher.

“These findings highlight emerging tensions in many U.S. regions between growing hydraulic fracturing activity and localized water supply needs,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber.

Monika Freyman, the report's author, told the New York Times, “You have to look at a county-by-county scale to capture the intense and short-term impact on water supplies."

“The whole drilling and fracking process is a well-orchestrated, moment-by-moment process” in which one million to five million gallons of water are needed for short periods, she said. “They [frackers] need an intense amount of water for a few days, and that’s it.”

The "neutral" Ceres report does not go far enough to suggest a moratorium on fracking.

However, the implications are clear enough—as the essential yet finite resource, water, continues to dwindle, frackers continue to use up excessive amounts of water to extract fossil fuels, all the while polluting large amounts of groundwater with toxic chemicals, which infect drinking wells along with swathes of land, farms, and personal property in surrounding territories.

"As summer approaches, huge areas of the Western U.S. still haven’t recovered from last year’s devastating drought," Claire Thompson reports at Grist. "Things could get ugly."


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