How Many “Large Ponds” Does it Take to Frac All of the Marcellus Gas Wells Drilled in PA in 2010? Hint: You Can Count it on One Hand

In a letter to the editor of the Times Observer (Warren, PA), letter writer Dave White makes a plea for common sense and balance in the discussion of drilling in the Marcellus. In particular, he makes a few statements of interest about the volume of water resources used, and disposed of, in the drilling process in PA:

My goal here is to bring a realistic picture of the real magnitude of fracturing water… First Energy tells us the reservoir 800 feet up on Jakes Rocks Road holds 2 billion gallons of water. How much is 2 billion gallons of water? In one large pond in Warren County lies enough water to frac almost all of the Marcellus wells drilled to date in Pennsylvania. First Energy probably pumps a billion gallons of water up there every night. And they drop it back down every day. In forty years I’ve never noticed a ripple on the Allegheny "recreational" river.

The next item to bring into reality, 2.8 million barrels of treated frac water being released into eight rivers. How much is that? When the river is flowing as it is today, 2.8 million barrels goes under the Hickory Street Bridge every 13 minutes. The Allegheny River share of eight rivers would pass under the bridge in 1.6 minutes. Keep in mind this is all the treated fracture water to date.(1)

MDN believes that although Mr. White’s heart is in the right place, his figures may be a tad off. According to our calculations, 2 billion gallons of water would be enough (at 5.5 million gallons per well on average) to frac 363 wells. In 2010 in PA, there were 1,386 Marcellus Shale wells drilled according the state DEP. So it would take the equivalent of four “large ponds” holding 2 billion gallons of water to frac all of the wells drilled in PA in 2010.

How big are those large ponds? Perhaps a “small lake” would be a better way to think of it. A large pond/small lake that’s 960 acres (1.5 square miles) in size, with an average depth of 7 feet holds about 2.1 billion gallons of water. Think a good-sized reservoir or a lake at a state park. Four of those would have fracked all of the wells drilled in PA in 2010.

Here’s another way to think about it, courtesy of the New York State Water Resources Institute at Cornell University:

Water withdrawals for hydrofracking need to be understood in the context of other water withdrawals. Estimated water withdrawals for the Great Lake States in the year 2000 for public water supplies was 10.2 billion gallons per day. Water withdrawals in 2006 by the Bolton Point Southern Cayuga Lake Intermunicipal Water Commission (from Cayuga Lake) were 2.83 million gallons per day, by the City of Ithaca (from Six Mile Creek) 3.90 million gallons per day, and by Cornell University (from Fall Creek) 1.43 million gallons per day. Seen in this context, to hydrofrack a gas well would require the amount of water the City of Ithaca withdraws from Six Mile Creek in one day.

Many people are unaware that in the United States, more water is withdrawn to cool power plants than for any other use. Estimated water withdrawals used to cool power plants in the Great Lake States in the year 2000 was 53.7 billion gallons per day. Scrubbers on coal burning thermoelectric power plants in the Susquehanna River Basin can consume 4 to 5 million gallons of water per day.(2)

(1) Time Observer (Mar 17, 2011) – Gas drilling

(2) Cornell University (accessed Mar 17, 2011) – Water Withdrawals for Hydrofracking