Water Use In Shale Energy Extraction: A Watershed-Level Analysis of Water Availability in Marcellus Shale Extraction
USMA Research Unit Affiliation
Geography and Environmental Engineering
Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Discourse surrounding hydraulic fracturing is shrill. Proponents tout economic and geopolitical benefits; opponents claim massive negative social and environmental impacts. Scientific evidence indicates that neither narrative is entirely accurate. Water quantity is a key, mostly unanalyzed question that also impacts water quality because a smaller amount of water with a consistent pollutant level will be more polluted. This question has spatial and temporal scale aspects. Studies showing statewide or annual use figures can indicate minimal water usage by hydraulic fracturing relative to the statewide or annual water availability. However, downscaling extraction and availability to the county or watershed level shows dramatically different results. This paper analyzes national data for hydraulic fracturing in the United States from 1947-2010 to determine the watershed-level sustainability of hydraulic fracturing within Pennsylvania. The results of this analysis show that sustainable volumes of water can be allocated to hydraulic fracturing operations in Pennsylvania if authorities at all levels consider ground and surface water regimes and upstream impacts before permitting new well development. The results from this study can help identify watersheds suited (or not) for future development and provide policymakers with a proposed set of seasonal and local criteria to consider when authorizing new development.