Fracking, farming, and water



C. Hitaj, A.J. Boslett, and J.G. Weber


Energy Policy, vol. 146, art. no. 111799, 2020


Several studies note the large quantity of water used to hydraulically fracture oil and gas wells. We quantify this water use and its effects on water use for irrigating crops. For nine western states in 2017, water use in fracking represented 1.7 percent of water use in irrigation overall, but up to 55 percent in the Bakken shale of North Dakota, 28 percent in Oklahoma shale regions, and 12 percent in the Eagle Ford shale of Texas. However, in counties where the percentage of water use for fracking relative to irrigation is large, it is primarily because such counties have had minimal historical irrigation. We analyze the effect of state water policies governing the transfer of water from farming to fracking on water withdrawals for the two sectors. In North Dakota, which allowed farmers to forego irrigating and sell water to energy firms, each acre-foot of water used in fracking displaced about 1.1 acre feet from irrigation, thereby avoiding an increase in total withdrawals. Weaker evidence suggests an increase in irrigation in Oklahoma and Texas. Because of the lack of displacement in Texas and Oklahoma, concerns that fracking contributes to excess withdrawals in the present time may be warranted.



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