News Feature | July 13, 2015

It's Counterintuitive, But Fracking May Help Conserve Water

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Are natural gas companies the unsung heroes of water conservation? The industry is notorious for the scale of its water needs in this era of scarcity and drought, but there is reason to believe that the rise of this form of energy production may actually help conserve water.

“As the U.S. has undergone a rapid and massive shift to natural gas from coal, one benefit has gone almost entirely overlooked: the amount of water needed to cool the nation’s power plants has dropped substantially,”Climate Central reported.

“The widespread adoption of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technology has led to dramatically higher natural gas production in the U.S. since 2005. The resulting drop in natural gas prices, coinciding with new EPA air quality regulations for coal-fired power plants, has led to a surge in natural gas-fired electricity generation nationwide,” the report continued.

As the fracking industry grows, less water is needed to cool power plants, Climate Central reported:

Between 2005 and 2012, coal’s share of electricity generation fell to 37 percent from 50 percent. Natural gas rose to 30 percent from 19 percent. Total electricity generation stayed roughly constant. That shift has translated into big changes in the amount of water being withdrawn from lakes and rivers to cool power plants. And it’s an important shift as nationally, 38 percent of all water withdrawn is for power plants. During the most recent 7-year period with reliable data, water use fell dramatically to 33 trillion gallons in 2012 from 52 trillion gallons in 2005. On average, the current natural gas power plants use four times less water per megawatt-hour generated than their coal-fired counterparts.

One of the most prominent criticisms of the natural gas industry is the amount of water it uses.

“[Fracking] requires colossal amounts of water, something that simply isn't available in the quantities required (as much as 25 million liters for each well) in many of the planet's most promising regions for shale gas development,” Power Technology reported

Another major criticism of the fracking industry is that it pollutes the water supply. But authorities have questioned that notion recently. Fracking supporters celebrated the EPA’s announcement in June that it “did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

For more fracking news, visit Water Online’s Produced Water Treatment Solutions Center