How fracking is exacerbating drought across America

Because it trades water for oil and methane, fracking is burning our future. There’s no other way to put it.

We’ve written about this before, how the fracking process is intensely water-hungry. The amount of water used to frack a well can vary, and wells can be fracked multiple times.

But I’ve seen ratios like the ones below in multiple places. Via Daily Kos and Dan Bacher, in an article that discusses industry estimates versus the estimates of critics, here’s information about Kern County (CA) fracking water-use:

Kern County oil industry uses vast quantities of water

One thing is for certain – oil companies use big quantities in their current oil drilling operations in Kern County, although the amount specifically used in fracking operations is hard to pinpoint. Much of this water this comes through the State Water Project’s California Aqueduct and the Central Valley Water Project’s Delta Mendota Canal, spurring increasing conflicts between local farmers and oil companies over available water.

“What’s resoundingly clear, however, is that it takes more water than ever just to sustain Kern County’s ebbing oil production,” according to Jeremy Miller’s 2011 investigative piece, “The Colonization of Kern County,” in Orion Magazine (http://www.orionmagazine.org/…)

“At the height of California oil production in 1985, oil companies in Kern County pumped 1.1 billion barrels of water underground to extract 256 million barrels of oil—a ratio of roughly four and a half barrels of water for every barrel of oil,” according to Miller. “In 2008, Kern producers injected nearly 1.3 billion barrels of water to extract 162 million barrels of oil—a ratio of nearly eight barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced.”

These are serious ratios. Keep them in mind when reading the following. It comes from Dr. David Suzuki and Ecowatch (my emphasis and paragraphing; h/t commenter Drew4u in a reply to this post):

Trading Water for Fuel is Fracking Crazy

It would be difficult to live without oil and gas. But it would be impossible to live without water. Yet, in our mad rush to extract and sell every drop of gas and oil as quickly as possible, we’re trading precious water for fossil fuels. …

One of the most disturbing findings [of a study by Ceres, “a U.S.-based nonprofit advocating for sustainability leadership”] is that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is using enormous amounts of water in areas that can scarcely afford it.

The report notes that close to half the oil and gas wells recently fracked in the U.S. “are in regions with high or extremely high water stress,” and more than 55 percent are in areas experiencing drought. In Colorado and California, almost all wells—97 and 96 percent, respectively—are in regions with high or extremely high water stress, meaning more than 80 percent of available surface and groundwater has already been allocated for municipalities, industry and agriculture.

Here’s what that looks like in a handy map (source here):

Fracking in areas of high water stress (full map with legend here)

Fracking in areas of high water stress (full map with legend here)

Click to enlarge, or click the link to view the full map. Orange and red are areas of “high water stress” and “extremely high water stress.”

Suzuki goes on to note something we noted earlier as well:

Drought and fracking have already caused some small communities in Texas to run out of water altogether, and parts of California are headed for the same fate.

California is already in a multi-year megadrought of millenial proportions (possibly the worst in 500 years, according to Suzuki). Especially hard hit are the major cities and the Central Valley agricultural region:

The city of Los Angeles has received only 3.6 inches of rain this year [2013]—far below its average of 14.91 inches, USA Today reported. And San Francisco is experiencing its driest year since record keeping began in 1849. As of November, the city had only received 3.95 inches of rain since the year began. …

The portion of the state currently hit hardest by drought includes the Central Valley, a prime agricultural area, and “a lack of rain and snow this winter could bring catastrophic losses to California agriculture, as water allotments are slashed by state agencies,” USA Todayreported.

Yet we frack away, trading water for oil. Or rather, our Betters frack away, trading climate and environment for dollars — your climate and your environment for their dollars.

We’re literally turning our drinking water into oil and methane, and burning our future with it.

When does this end? It ends on its own, in a rolling catastrophe, or it ends when we retake the political process — via both ballot measures and street measures — from the hands of the Oil and Tar barons, and from their bought enablers in government. I don’t see another alternative.

UPDATE: Speaking of “their bought enablers in government,” I’m reminded via email that California Governor Jerry “I care about the climate” Brown has a big history of taking Big Oil money and signing fracking permits, again while much of California is in a multi-year drought. From the anti-fracking info page (my emphasis):

The oil and gas industry gives millions of dollars to California’s elected officials to ensure their interests are served in Sacramento. Governor Brown is one of these recipients, having accepted at least $2,014,570.22 [$2 million] from fossil fuel interests since his race for Attorney General in 2006.

As the public awakens to the dangers of fracking in California, the fossil fuel industry is spending as much money as it takes to protect their dirty interests. Billions of barrels of untapped oil are sitting in the Monterey Shale and Big Oil is pushing to make sure it all stays on the table.

State campaign finance laws prohibit any company or individual from contributing more than $27,200 per candidate, per election — but many of these companies have found loopholes that let them flood the system with their petro-dollars, making sure our elected leaders, and Governor Brown in particular, protect their interests.

The fossil fuel corporations and associated industries at the top of the dirty money pile include: Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, Southern California Edison, Valero Energy, Tesoro Corp, Plains Exploration & Production, Venoco, Conoco Phillips, and Aera Energy (owned jointly by Shell and ExxonMobil).

There’s more info here.

For your amusement, Andy Cobb and the anti-fracking folks have produced an fun video, starring “Jerry Brown” as an aging Matthew (“Stetson cologne“) McConaughey. His stetson — battered but unbowed. His cologne — FrackWater. (Watch at the link.)

There’s an uncredited voice-over actor you may recognize. Enjoy. (You can sign the petition here. And thanks.)

GP

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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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