|University of Colorado at Boulder|
Tracking Water Consumption
In a series of articles focusing on the issue of drilling related water consumption, the organization FracTracker has identified a number of obstacles holding back accurate collection of water consumption data for unconventional drilling activities.
A combination of factors have made it increasingly difficult for anyone to get a complete picture of water consumption statistics for oil and gas exploration and production on national, state, and local levels. Conflicting data sets, lack of data, and state records with varying criteria, definitions, and categorization of waste products all contribute to the difficulty of attaining accurate records. Additionally, unclear or absence of records for water volume used in refracturing wells and for well and pipeline maintenance leave a significant quantity of water unaccounted for.
Because oil and gas operations are often shared by many companies on multiple levels, chain of custody also becomes a vexing issue for tracking water consumption. Operators oversee exploration and production, service providers (such as Halliburton) oversee field operations and supply chains and often subcontract specific jobs to specialist companies. Thus it is often almost impossible to create a full cradle-to-grave assessment of water consumption for even a single discovery and production operation.
The tool FracFocus, launched in 2011 by the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, is intended to be a one stop shop for chemical and fluid disclosure of hydraulically fractured wells in the United States. While a 2013 Harvard Law School study found a number of significant limitations to the original site, including incomplete and inaccurate disclosures and a cumbersome search format, the site has evolved to improve data accuracy and searchability and to allow for extraction of data in "machine readable" format.
Finally, state regulations on water withdrawal permits vary widely throughout the country. Regulations often differ based on whether withdrawal is from a surface or groundwater source, and different states employ different permitting and reporting standards. For a state by state comparison of water quantity regulations and standards, see the Law Atlas's Water Quantity dataset.