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Governors Say Operators Should Use Less Drinking Water For Fracking

The National Governors Association (NGA) said states should consider adopting policies that encourage operators to use less drinking water for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and rely more on flowback and produced water.

In a 16-page report released Thursday, the NGA outlined a list of policy suggestions to protect drinking water resources in the wake of shale development. The recommendations summarized key points from a 35-member panel that included gubernatorial advisers, state regulators, federal officials, academics, energy industry representatives and environmentalists at a March meeting in Philadelphia.

"The development of shale gas is less water-intensive than coal, nuclear or oil, but nearly half of U.S. shale gas and oil wells are being developed in counties that have high water stress," the NGA said. "By reusing wastewater from [fracking] in multiple rounds of drilling, industry can reduce its use of new drinking water. Only freshwater should be used for the initial drilling until the protective casings are installed."

The NGA cited new laws enacted by Illinois and New Mexico to, respectively, allow produced water in fracking fluids and to encourage the recycling of produced water. The association added that while operators are not typically required to report the source of the water used for fracking, some states -- Illinois, Utah and West Virginia -- have enacted laws requiring some disclosures.

Other policy recommendations by the NGA include:

  • Ensuring well integrity and plugging to minimize the risks to water;
  • Managing risks of contamination from fracking fluids;
  • Mitigating risks from wastewater contamination and seismicity; and
  • Leveraging the unique role of the governor's office to promote protective practices.

"Governors have unique opportunities to enhance coordination, communication, and research," the NGA said on its final point. "The scale and speed of shale development is outpacing many government regulatory agencies' enforcement capacity. Increasing the number of inspectors who are available to monitor the drilling and completion progress can help governors ensure that as many wells are receiving adequate attention as possible."

In 2009 and 2010, Pennsylvania more than doubled the number of inspectors it deployed at oil and gas wells (see Shale DailySept. 21, 2011).

"Governors and other state policymakers are leading the way in devising and implementing protective practices to protect drinking water resources from potential risks associated with shale energy development," the NGA said. "Those practices reflect regional differences along with developments in technology and science.

"The measures that states have taken include those that reduce the quantity of drinking water needed to support drilling operations, address concerns about the potential contamination of groundwater and surface water, and mitigate the risks of increased seismicity associated with the use of underground injection wells for wastewater disposal."

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R), who serves as vice chairman of the NGA's natural resources committee, said the report shows state regulators, not their federal counterparts, were better qualified to regulate shale development. Last month, a federal judge in that state blocked the Bureau of Land Management from enacting a rule governing fracking on public and tribal lands (see Shale DailyJune 24).

"Water is our nation's most important natural resource," Mead said. "State policies balance protection with responsible energy development. Wyoming was the first state to regulate fracking and one of the first states to establish baseline water rules. States are in the best position to make the right policy decisions for these resources."

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