Box 14. Case Study: A Solution in Water Sourcing

Box 14. Case Study: A Solution in Water Sourcing

Box 14. Case Study: A Solution in Water Sourcing

At its sites in the Fayetteville Shale play in Arkansas, Chesapeake Energy had been purchasing most of its water for drilling and hydraulic fracturing from private sources and trucking it to the well pads. While this process was working for the company, the truck traffic was causing damage to local roads. In 2008, therefore, Chesapeake decided to look into new water supply sources. The company found that by creating what is essentially a holding lake for the overflow from the Little Red River, it could cut down on some of its trucking needs.

Under the system the company developed, water is pumped from the river to the holding lake and transferred into a gravity-fed pipeline that traverses over 40,000 feet, with fourteen hydrants positioned at crossroads where the water can be pumped into trucks. The piping system reduces the air quality impact and safety concerns of trucking, and serves a dual purpose as a source of water for local fire departments. The project was approved to extract a limit of 1,550 acre-feet of water annually. 1

Although water is only diverted from the river during periods of high flow, as mandated by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (ANRC), there were local concerns about how this project would affect the Little Red River’s ecosystem. The river is home to a trout population prized by anglers, so Chesapeake turned to the local chapter of Trout Unlimited for input on the project.

As a result of this collaborative effort, various methods were identified to protect the wildlife in the river—for example, the intake pipe is oriented to face upstream and is covered with a metal mesh to prevent harm to the fish. 2 The company has also instituted monitoring of water quality and both game and nongame fish species in the reach of river surrounding the intake. Working with the community, Chesapeake was able to identify and implement measures to protect the river’s wildlife and its recreational and scenic values to the community.

Notes:

  1. National Energy Technology Laboratory, “Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: A Primer,” prepared for U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, April 2009, 65.
  2. Chesapeake Energy, “A River Runs Through It: Environmentally Sensitive Operations in the Natural State,” Spring 2008, 2.

What resources can provide further information?

What resources can provide further information?

Water Quantity

  • Juliet Christian-Smith, “Improving Water Management through Groundwater Banking:  Kern County and Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District” (The Pacific Institute, 2013). A case study of water banking programs in Kern County in California’s Central Valley. The Pacific Institute, a California-based organization dedicated to reaching environmental solutions through interdisciplinary research, funded this study.
  • Monica Freyman, “Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress:  Water Demand by the Numbers” (Ceres, February 2014). Ceres is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to mobilize business and investor leadership on climate change and sustainability issues. This paper analyzes water demand in shale development operations in North America, focusing on eight regions of intense development and water use. It offers recommendations to investors, lenders, and companies for mitigating their exposure to water sourcing risks.
  • International Council on Mining & Metals, “Water Management in Mining:  A Selection of Case Studies” (May 2012). This selection of case studies gives some examples from the mining sector of strategies to reduce water use and protect water quality in collaboration with stakeholders.

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

Industry Representatives

Water Quantity

Engaging in consultations with local stakeholders, proactively developing water management plans, and coordinating with other operators in the region to develop shared, centralized infrastructure can help a company to sustainably manage its consumption of water resources. In addition, the company may seek to engage its employees in water conservation efforts and encourage sustainable practices on the part of its suppliers and contractors.

To reduce fresh water withdrawals, the operator can treat and reuse wastewater on site for use in its hydraulic fracturing operations or for other industrial or agricultural uses (if the treated water meets the user’s chemical criteria and the operator obtains the necessary permits). Some companies are achieving nearly 100% recycling of their produced water, which reduces their freshwater consumption by 10 to 30 percent. 1 Companies could also seek to replace the use of fresh water in their operations with municipal wastewater or brackish water.

Other activities that can serve to reduce impacts on local water supplies include:

  • minimizing the subsurface injection of produced water to prevent its removal from the water cycle
  • considering the practice of groundwater banking, in which an entity stores water in a groundwater basin for the purpose of future withdrawal (see the resources section below)
  • timing surface water withdrawals to avoid coinciding with periods of low flow or of heavy usage (see Box 14. Case Study:  A Solution in Water Sourcing)

Notes:

  1. Freyman, “Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress,” 39.

What health considerations are there?

What health considerations are there?

Box 12. Focus on U.S. Water Law and Regulation

There are several different water law regimes in the U.S. The two dominant regimes are the riparian doctrine, applied in most Eastern states (with some permutations on the West coast), and the prior appropriation doctrine, which applies in most states west of the 100th meridian. Under the riparian doctrine, landowners along waterways have “riparian rights” to the natural quantity and quality of flow in the waterway, except as diminished by the “reasonable use” of the water by other riparian landowners. Under riparian doctrine, the right to use the water may be obtained by purchasing land along the waterway.

Under the prior appropriation doctrine, water is allocated in specific amounts for “beneficial use.” Each water right has a priority date that determines its place in the hierarchy of withdrawals, and it maintains the same date even if it is sold to another user. Older water rights have priority over more recently created ones—“first in time, first in right”—and are therefore more valuable. In times of water shortage, holders of “younger” water rights are required to stop withdrawing water from the waterway to ensure that senior rights holders can withdraw the full amount they were allocated. Under prior appropriation, rights to specific amounts of water may be bought and sold by users without the requirement of riparian land ownership. Prior appropriation rights are generally considered stronger property rights than rights established under the riparian doctrine, and have been subjected to buying and selling in a marketplace. In some states, therefore, holders of water rights may benefit from shale development by selling a portion of their right to an operator.  

Water rights are also governed by the federal reserved right doctrine, under which American Indian tribes retain rights to water even if those rights were not specifically allocated to them in treaties with the U.S. government; reclamation law, which is a specialized area of federal contract law for federal reclamation projects such as California’s Central Valley Project; and federal regulatory water rights, which are regulatory constraints (such as Endangered Species Act requirements) that often trump other water laws.

What health considerations are there?

What health considerations are there?

What health considerations are there?

Water Quantity

Shale development using hydraulic fracturing involves pumping a mixture of sand, water, and chemicals into deep rock formations at high pressure in order to release natural gas or oil. A single well may use 3–6 million gallons of water, although usage can vary widely depending on the well and the specific shale formation. 1 The majority of the water usage takes place in the development and production stages of the project, when drilling and hydraulic fracturing require fluids for cooling, lubricating, maintaining pressure in the well, and fracturing the shale.

Water used in these operations can be sourced from surface waters such as rivers, lakes and streams, from municipal water supplies, or from underground aquifers. Overuse of an area’s groundwater can cause land subsidence, a reduction in surface waters, and, due to the interconnected nature of the water cycle, long-term unsustainability of water supplies. In an effort to reduce their use of fresh water supplies, operators also draw on municipal wastewater, recycled water, or brackish water. 2

In the United States, the states are primarily responsible for the regulation and permitting of withdrawals from surface and groundwater. According to a study of 31 states by Resources for the Future, most states require permits for water withdrawals, although some only require them for withdrawals above a certain threshold. 3 Others require disclosure of withdrawals, with the exception of Kentucky, which exempts the oil and gas industry from water allocation regulations. Pennsylvania and West Virginia require companies to submit a water management plan that includes an impact analysis of the planned withdrawals. 4 

Although the water needed for drilling the wells and fracturing operations may represent a fraction of the overall water resources available, the timing of withdrawals over the short time period that operations occur—as well as cumulative withdrawals for multiple sites—can bring the industry into competition with other local uses, including municipal, agricultural, and recreational. Due to the location of the oil and gas reserves, shale energy operations are often concentrated in small communities with limited resources to handle any stress on their water supplies. If the area is experiencing drought, which is the case for over half the areas of shale development in North America, withdrawals can exacerbate stressed conditions. 5 

After hydraulic fracturing has taken place, a portion of the injected water—ranging from 30% to 70% of the original 6—returns to the surface, while the remaining portion is trapped in the shale formation. This produced water often contains naturally occurring chemicals such as salts, heavy metals, and naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) from the rock formation. (For information on water quality issues, see Stage 3.)

There are several methods for managing well site wastewater. It can be processed on the well pad site or transported to a waste treatment facility. If the water is treated to remove pollutants, it can ultimately be returned to surface waters, where it re-enters the water cycle. Some companies recycle the wastewater, treating it and mixing it with fresh water before reusing it in their operations or providing it for other industrial or agricultural uses. Wastewater can also be injected into underground disposal wells, where it is stored between layers of impermeable rock thousands of feet from usable groundwater resources. From a water availability perspective, disposing of the water in this manner effectively removes it from the global water cycle.

In June 2015, the EPA published a draft report on the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. The final report will include the effects of each stage of hydraulic fracturing on the quantity and quality of drinking water. 7 The cycles under consideration in this report include water acquisition, chemical mixing, well injection, produced water, and wastewater treatment and waste disposal (see Figure 6 below).  

Notes:

  1. U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Oil and Gas:  Information on Shale Resources, Development, and Environmental and Public Health Risks” (September 2012).
  2. Water whose salt content falls between that of fresh and seawater.
  3. Richardson, Nathan, Madeline Gottlieb, Alan Krupnick, and Hannah Wiseman, The State of State Shale Gas RegulationResources for the Future (June 2013).  
  4. Nathan Richardson et al., The State of State Shale Gas Regulation, 40–41.
  5. Monika Freyman, Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress:  Water Demand by the Numbers (Ceres, February 2014), 6.
  6. Ground Water Protection Council and ALL Consulting, “Modern Shale Gas in the United States: A Primer,” Prepared for U.S. Department of Energy Office of Fossil Energy and the National Energy Technology Laboratory, April 2009, 66.
  7. Given that the draft report is currently under review by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board and is marked as not for citation, we have refrained from citing the study’s preliminary conclusions on water quantity in this version of the guidebook.

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

COLLABORATIVE ACTIVITIES

What topics are useful to discuss at this stage?

If local officials and company representatives meet to discuss the company’s anticipated needs and potential community impacts, possible topics to cover include:

  • the likelihood that the project will proceed to production
  • the length of time the operator anticipates conducting activities in the community
  • the typical number of outside workers the project will require and how the company plans to accommodate them  
  • the number of families and children who could accompany project workers, which can help local officials determine whether more educational resources are needed
  • the profile of the local labor pool and whether the company plans to hire locally; if so, what  job skills and training might be necessary
  • the company’s emergency response plans and potential demands on emergency and fire department services, including any training needs and any specialized emergency response equipment that should be acquired (e.g., personal protective equipment)
  • amount and timing of anticipated vehicle traffic; which local roads/bridges to avoid or are in need of an upgrade
  • method for responding to any impacts to local infrastructure and services
  • the company’s plans for water sourcing; air, water, and noise monitoring; waste disposal; and erosion control
  • approach to responding to community concerns about light,  noise, and dust from traffic
  • any plans to conduct flaring at the site
  • the company’s approach to engaging local community stakeholders

Depending on the outcome of these discussions, potential areas for collaborative planning or joint initiatives could emerge. For example, local officials can potentially work with the company and other regional stakeholders to coordinate the construction of water pipelines or common waste disposal facilities. These stakeholders may work together to establish educational programs in the region to train local workers in the skills needed at project sites (see Box 10. Examples of Education and Training Programs). 

Local officials could also work with company representatives to hold an informational session or open house about the potential for shale development in the community. Many of the above topics should also be covered in an open house—in particular, it can be helpful to discuss the likelihood that the project will proceed and the length of time operations would last. 

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

Collaborative Activities

Water Quantity 

The issue of water availability is covered in detail in Stage 4—Development and Production when regular withdrawals of large quantities of water come into play. As many of the impacts can be alleviated or avoided by appropriate planning, it is worth considering water management options at this stage of development. Furthermore, operators are sometimes required to submit their plans for water sourcing as part of the permitting process. It can be helpful for the company to develop a water-sourcing plan whether or not it is required, in order to understand existing water sources and demands and how the company’s needs will interact with them.

To find out how water withdrawals and uses are regulated in your state, you can consult with the water quality state engineer at the state’s department of water resources. As part of the information-sharing sessions between local officials and company representatives mentioned above, questions to discuss could include:  

  • What are the sources of water (ground or surface) in your community and how are they used (drinking, recreation, agriculture, livelihoods, energy generation)?
  • What water source will the project use? If relevant, how might it impact other important uses of water in the community?
  • When will the water withdrawals for the project take place?
  • Will the project provide infrastructure that increases access to water? If so, will the community be able to use that water? 
  • What will happen to the wastewater? Will it be treated and returned to the water cycle, injected into rock formations, or reused for operations?