It's no secret the process of hydraulic fracturing uses a lot of water. The entire process relies on water and the pressure it creates when injected deep underground. The numbers attributed to water usage by drilling sites are actually quite staggering, especially when you consider much of the water is never recovered from the gas well. According to some sources, a single fracking well consumes an average of 5 million gallons of water per frack. Only between 10 and 30% of that water returns to the surface with the gas as it is harvested.
Pennsylvania officials contemplate options for water-use fees
In addition to the existing controversy over fracking in general, the exposure of just how much water usage occurs at each well has led to a renewed push for accountability by Pennsylvania lawmakers. More often than not, the water needed for fracking is taken from the surrounding area of the gas well before being mixed onsite with chemicals and proppants and injected deep into the Earth's surface.
In Pennsylvania, the law specifically states that the water supply is owned by the citizenship of the commonwealth. With that in mind, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, John Arway, is looking to have drilling companies pay for the water they use in Pennsylvania - especially because so little of it returns to the natural water cycle.
Fracking isn't the only industry in Arway's sights. He's interested in pursuing a fee for any company that uses Pennsylvania's water resources and doesn't return them to the natural cycle. That includes the companies within the state that package and sell bottled water. According to an Associated Press article published in April, Arway said, "Some of these companies take (water) out of the environment, use it for free, and it's gone - never returned to Pennsylvania's environment." The proposed usage taxes would go toward both the Fish and Boat Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection budgets.
Other proposals for finding water to frack with
The most recent push for gas companies to pay for their water use isn't the first time Pennsylvania residents have proposed new ideas to deal with the volume of water needed by gas companies.
Pennsylvania has a long-standing history of natural resource mining. Every type of mining operation has some sort of water consumption associated with it. Over the years, this statewide prevalence of mining has led to a serious pollution problem. According to a story by Susan Phillips of NPR, there are in excess of 4,000 miles of waterways in Pennsylvania that have been polluted by the thousands of abandoned mines in the state.
That's a lot of water, and while it's not exactly freshwater, some people are proposing it should be used as the primary ingredient of fracking fluid. It's an interesting take on trying to make the best of an already poor situation, but some people aren't so keen on the idea of injecting polluted water into the Earth's surface. While thought-provoking, some argue this may not be an area where we should be killing two birds with one stone.