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

  • WaterBoy

    What you and Mr. White conveniently failed to mention is the fact that on average only about 15% of the frac water flows back to the surface as “flowback” after fracking. Using your figures, that equates to about 1.7 BILLION gallons of water that is lost down gas wells NEVER to return to the surface to see the light of day.

    In contrast, the 53.7 bgpd of water used for cooling Great Lakes States power plants, the 10.2 bgpd withdrawn for public supply, water used for golf course irrigation, and the 5 mgd used by coal scrubbers in the Susquehanna River Basin will return their water to the hydrologic cycle AFTER it is used for cooling, irrigation, drinking, domestic use, evaporative cooling, etc.

    With this number on an exponential increase, it is safe to forecast that by the end of 2011 the amount of water simply removed from the surface of the planet by gas drilling/fracking, NEVER TO BE REPLACED, will approach 3 BILLION GALLONS OF WATER EVERY YEAR!!!!!

    If the industry is active for, lets say, 10 years, and we assume the current rate of water use by the industry, that would amount to 30 BILLION GALLONS OF WATER removed from the planet by 2020!!

    But if the industry continues to spread the kind of propaganda presented in this article, maybe no one will miss it. Just pray we don’t have a drought!

  • NY Shale Gas Now


    As long as you got your calculator out, tell me how much water is *added* to the hydrologic cycle by the simple combustion of fossil fuels.

    In the case of natural gas, for instance, CH4 + O2 equals H2O + CO2.

    I’ve seen calculations indicating a good shale gas well will replace *all* the orphaned frack water — in the form of water vapor from combustion of just its first six months of gas production.

    You’re fretting about industry propaganda, but both sides are playing that game, and it’s obvious you’ve been completely bamboozled by one side in particular.

  • Water Boy is ALL WET

    I hate to burst your bubble Water Boy, but there are some serious errors in your statements. You fail to recognize the large amount of water used in scrubbers at the electic utilities that ends up in a calcium sulfate or calcium sulfite “paste” that is removed from the water cycle permanently. Of course these huge scrubbers are mandated by the environmentalists who are now so concerned about consumptive use. We have many other consumptive uses such as concrete, where the water hydrates the calcined product and is forever lost.

    Now for the gas side. Wells have initial flowback that may be in the 15 to 20% range, however, they produce water over their 30 plus year life as “produced water.” So eventually, the water is returned. As NY Shale Gas Now states, and I thought I was the only one to recognize this, combustion of any hydrocarbon results in two end products – CO2 and water vapor. To drive home this point, if you burn a gallon of gasoline in your car, you will generate 1.03 gallons of water in the process, emitted as water vapor over the 20 or so miles you drove. Very simple chemistry here. So over time, the water does return, and its combustion yields far, far more water than used in well stimulation.

    Guess you’re all wet Mr. Water Boy.