An update conducted last year of a Texas water use study found that oil and gas producers are using more water for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), but they’re also recycling more, making it important to distinguish between water “use” and “consumption.”

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin last spring began updating the fracking sections of a Texas Water Development Board-sponsored study from 2011 on behalf of the Texas Oil & Gas Association. The original report is titled “Current and Projected Water Use in the Texas Mining and Oil and Gas Industry” and was published in June 2011. It provided estimated county-level water use by the oil and gas industry in 2008 and projections to 2060.

The update was prompted by “a major shift” by producers from gas to oil production and “rapid development of technological advances” allowing for the reuse of water and the ability to use brackish water in energy operations, the authors said.

“Overall we find that, if the total water use for hydraulic fracturing has increased from 36,000 AF [acre feet] in 2008 to about 81,500 AF in 2011, the amount of recycling/reuse and the use of brackish water have also increased (about 17,000 AF in 2011, or 21%).

“Hydraulic fracturing has expanded to the southern and western, drier parts of the state and, by necessity, the industry has had to adapt to those new conditions. Collected information tends to suggest that the industry has been decreasing its freshwater consumption despite the increase in water use. Total water use information is relatively easy to access…but true consumption is harder to gauge.”

The researchers found that the updated projections for fracking water use are similar to the earlier projections, but they have “a more subdued peak and a longer tail.” This is probably because the industry has fracked more formations that can be considered tight oil or gas, they said.

The earlier report estimated peak water use at 145,000 AF in the early 2020s. That is now expected to be a broader peak that plateaus at about 125,000 AF during the same decade. “However, freshwater consumption is estimated to stay at the general level of about 70,000 AF/year and to decrease in future decades,” the update said.

“Adding other oil and gas industry water uses, such as water flooding and drilling, brings projected maximum water use up to about 180,000 AF/year during the 2020-2030 decade with a much lower consumption, which brings the total mining water use to a maximum of about 340,000 AF/year around the year 2030.”

The water amounts used by the oil and gas industry are still small relative to other water uses in Texas.

“In 2010, hydraulic fracturing water use represented about 0.5% of the water use in the state,” the update said. “However, the hydraulic fracturing water use is unevenly distributed across the state and may represent locally a higher fraction of the total water use.”