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Study shows how much fracking occurs in 'water stressed' areas

Nearly half of all oil and gas wells in North America are now being hydraulically fractured with huge amounts of water in landscapes experiencing drought, according to a new report.

The lengthy study by the non-profit Ceres Investor Network adds that much of the oil and gas fracking activity on the continent is happening in "arid, water stressed regions, creating significant long-term water sourcing risks."

Nearly one-quarter of all wells drilled in Alberta, for example, are located in regions experiencing high or medium water stress.

The report singled out British Columbia's chaotic shale gas plays as a major concern, due to a lack of transparency about the consumption of water resources in the region and the industry's cumulative impact on First Nations.

"Lack of regulation around groundwater withdrawals has stirred concerns," reads the report.

"Large-scale users of water previously could withdraw groundwater without any limits or costs. To address this issue and further improve water stewardship in the province, major changes to the provincial water act are now being proposed.

"Another controversy in British Columbia is the alleged overreliance by industry on short-term water permits to gain access to water, which has resulted in a lawsuit filed against the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission and Encana for alleged B.C. Water Act violations. These short-term permits avoid additional oversight provisions that would normally be required through water licenses."

Some other key findings of the study as highlighted by Common Dreams:

"Over 55 per cent of the wells hydraulically fractured were in areas experiencing drought and 36 per cent overlay regions with significant groundwater depletion -- key among those, California, which is in the midst of a historic drought, and Texas, which has the highest concentration of shale energy development and hydraulic fracturing activity in the U.S.

Specifically:

"In Texas, which includes the rapidly developing Eagle Ford and Permian Basin shale plays, more than half (52 per cent) of the wells were in high or extreme high water stress areas. In Colorado and California, 97 and 96 per cent of the wells, respectively, were in regions with high or extremely high water stress. Nearly comparable trends were also shown in New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

"Among hundreds of hydraulic fracturing companies whose water use was evaluated, those with the highest exposure to water sourcing risk are Anadarako (APC), Encana (ECA), Pioneer (PXD) and Apache (APA). Most of the wells being developed by each of these companies are in regions of high or extreme water stress. The top three service providers, Halliburton, (HAL) Schlumberger (SLB) and Baker Hughes (BHI), handled about half of the water used for hydraulic fracturing nationally and also face water sourcing risks.

"Although water use for hydraulic fracturing is often less than two per cent of state water demands, the impacts can be large at the local level, sometimes exceeding the water used by all of the residents in a county."

Boston-based Ceres was found by a small group of investors after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 "to weave sustainable strategies and practices into the fabric and decision-making of companies."

Award-winning journalist Andrew Nikiforuk writes about energy for The Tyee and others.

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