Why is water used in fracking?
In order to extract natural gas from low permeability shale, fracturing fluids are pumped into a wellbore, a process which increases pressure underground, causes shale layers to crack, and allows the gas contained within the shale to escape.
Water is accessible, affordable, and incompressible so it is the primary component of fracking fluid.
How much water is used to frack a well?
Each drill site requires between 3 and 5 million gallons of water per frackFracking: Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is the process of injecting fluids under high pressure into a well to create fractures in deep shale rock that allow natural gas to escape.. Based on approximately 1500 horizontal wells fracked in 2011, Pennsylvania used about 12-20 million gallons of water per day for Marcellus Shale drilling, which represents approximately .5-.8% of the 9.5 billion gallons of water the state uses daily.
Population: 67,000 • State College Borough Water Authority
Where does the water come from?
Roughly 65% of the water used for Marcellus Shale drilling comes from rivers, creeks, and lakes in Pennsylvania. The other 35% is purchased from municipalities by drilling companies. Water may be transported to the drill site by truck or through temporary pipelines installed underground.
What is in fracking fluid?
There are more than 50 known chemicals that may be added to the water that is used for hydraulic fracturing. These chemicals generally represent less than 1% of the total composition of the fracking fluid. Such chemicals avert microorganism growth, prevent corrosion of metal pipes, and maintain fluid viscosity.
ProppantsProppant: A proppant is a material such as sand or ceramic beads used in hydraulic fracturing to ensure that newly created shale fractures remain open. A typical well uses between 3 million and 5 million pounds of proppants. such as sand or ceramic beads are also added to the water to hold fractures open.
Friction-reducing additives are added to water to create slickwater, which allows pumping of fracturing fluids to occur at a higher rate and at a lower pressure.
What happens to the water after it has been used for fracking?
Approximately 10% to 30% of the total water used per frack returns to the surface with the extracted gas. The remaining water remains deep underground. It is mostly absorbed by the shale formation, which is isolated from the water tableWater Table: The water table is the depth below which all of the pore spaces and cracks in rocks and sediments are completely saturated with water..
The water that returns to the surface is called "flowback.Flowback: Flowback is fluid that returns to the surface with extracted gas. It may contain clay, salts, rock particles, naturally occurring elements dissolved from the rock, and chemicals that were added prior to beginning the hydraulic fracturing process. Most flowback occurs within 7-10 days of drilling, but may continue for 3-4 weeks. Flowback is captured in lined pits or metal tanks and must be treated and reused at another drill site or transported by truck or pipeline for proper disposal." The water – which contains salts and other naturally occurring elements and may contain trace concentrations of fracking chemicals – is captured and stored for treatment or disposal.
Flowback may be treated through a variety of methods.
- Diluted with fresh water on site and used for another well.
- Treated on site and used for another well.
- Hauled off site for treatment and/or disposal in permitted deep injection wells.
Who regulates water usage?
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), in cooperation with the Delaware River Basin Commission and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, regulates water used for Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania.
As part of the permit application process, drilling companies must identify the water sources from which they plan to obtain water and specify anticipated impacts. Sources may include rivers, streams, and lakes or municipalities and must be approved by the appropriate river basin commission.
Who regulates water treatment and disposal?
Drilling companies must identify where wastewater, or flowbackFlowback: Flowback is fluid that returns to the surface with extracted gas. It may contain clay, salts, rock particles, naturally occurring elements dissolved from the rock, and chemicals that were added prior to beginning the hydraulic fracturing process. Most flowback occurs within 7-10 days of drilling, but may continue for 3-4 weeks. Flowback is captured in lined pits or metal tanks and must be treated and reused at another drill site or transported by truck or pipeline for proper disposal., will be treated and stored as part of the drilling permit application process. They must also adhere to the guidelines created by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for water disposal.
DEP dictates that flowback must be treated to have a total dissolved solids (TDS) concentration of 500 parts per million or less for discharge into surface water bodies, which is consistent with Pennsylvania drinking water standards.
As of August 2011, there is currently only one facility in the statein Williamsportthat is capable of treating water according to this standard.
Can water become contaminated by Marcellus Shale drilling?
There are three ways water can become contaminated by Marcellus Shale drilling.
Inadequate water management plans: During the construction and maintenance of the drill site, companies are expected to follow Best Management Practices (BMPs)BMP: BMP is a term commonly used to describe water pollution control in relation to industrial wastewater, municipal sewage, stormwater, and wetlands. for stormwater management, but if BMPs are not followed, surface water containing silt and debris may run off the site and into local waterways. This type of contamination consists primarily of mud, and it is a commonly cited violation by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Surface spills: Chemicals or chemical-laden fluids (such as fracking fluid, slickwater,Slickwater: The combination of water and chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing to reduce friction, maintain pressure, and increase fluid flow into the well., or flowbackFlowback: Flowback is fluid that returns to the surface with extracted gas. It may contain clay, salts, rock particles, naturally occurring elements dissolved from the rock, and chemicals that were added prior to beginning the hydraulic fracturing process. Most flowback occurs within 7-10 days of drilling, but may continue for 3-4 weeks. Flowback is captured in lined pits or metal tanks and must be treated and reused at another drill site or transported by truck or pipeline for proper disposal.) may spill or leak and seep into the ground surrounding a drill pad or flow into nearby fields and streams. Fuel spills (gasoline, diesel) from vehicles and equipment are another source of potential contamination. These types of spills can be identified due to the distinct chemical “fingerprint” of the spilled fluids. While spills of this type have been reported by the DEP and some investigations are ongoing, there have not been any substantiated cases of these fluids entering the groundwater supply.
Methane migration: Naturally occurring methane may rise from its original home deep underground into upper levels of rock close to the surface. The methane may make its way into the groundwater supply and enter private wells drilled into the aquifer. The DEP has issued fines to gas companies for methane migration, although it is difficult to determine where the methane originated and whether it can be tied to Marcellus Shale drilling. Clearer cases of migration occur when methane rises up the space around the well casing due to faulty cementing procedures. This type of methane migration was documented by the DEP in at least 5 counties in 2011.
How large is the Marcellus Shale?
The Marcellus Shale lies underneath about 90,000 square miles of Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia. It lies at varying depths from the surface to 9,000 feet and is believed to hold hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, only a portion of which can be extracted with current technology. Between January and June of 2011, Marcellus wells produced 432.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas. During the same period in 2012, 895 billion cubic feet were extracted.
How did the Marcellus Shale form?
About 390 million years ago, what is now western Pennsylvania was part of a large inland sea. Biological matter and organisms dropped to this sea floor over time and mixed with sediments brought into the sea by rivers from the surrounding landmass. Over millions of years, as the continents moved and tectonic plates collided, mountains were formed, rivers were redirected, and the biological and inorganic sediments were buried under additional layers of rock, compressing them further. The extreme pressure and heat at greater depths converted the organic material into hydrocarbons, including those that make up natural gas. These hydrocarbons are not contained in reservoirs like oil, but rather are distributed throughout the shale in very thin layers and pores. This is why the rock must be fractured for the gas to escape.
How much land has been affected by Marcellus Shale drilling?
As of August 2012, about 6,400 Marcellus wells were drilled in Pennsylvania and nearly 2500 additional permits were provided. On average there are two wells per pad, or roughly 3,200 pads in the state currently. Each pad (plus associated water impoundments, new roads, and other necessities) consumes between five and eight acres of land. This means that Marcellus Shale drilling has thus far affected approximately 20,800 acres of land, which is .07% of the total land in the state.
Learn about the stages of fracturing and production