How much water goes into oil fracking in drought-stricken California? by Eric Ting, SFGATE, June 28, 2021
When California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to ban hydraulic fracturing, a highly controversial method of oil and gas production more widely known as fracking, he focused primarily on climate change impacts.
He may have a water conservation argument to make as well.
“Fracking uses a lot of water,” said Hollin Kretzmann, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit environmentalist group. “But if you talk to the oil industry, they’ll say, ‘It’s not that big a chunk of water, look at what agriculture uses.’ But when we’re talking about water issues and the drought, it’s a very localized issue.”
The practice of fracking entails injecting large amounts of water, sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressures in an attempt to crack open rock layers and release oil or gas trapped inside. In addition to local air and water pollution, fracking has also been linked to climate change as the practice leads to the release of large amounts of methane into the atmosphere.
Most of the fracking in California is done in the Central Valley.
“We’re already talking about a region with limited resources to begin with, so to allot any water to the oil industry when we need to move away from fossil fuels anyway is very short sighted,” Kretzmann said.
According to a 2015 report from the California Council on Science and Technology, fracking requires an estimated 320 million gallons of water in the state annually. The water impact does not stop there.
Once fracking is completed in a given area, it enables additional “enhanced oil recovery” methods that include steam flooding and gas injection. The report finds that post-fracking enhanced oil recovery methods use up an additional 4.2 billion gallons of California water per year.
In addition, the report finds substantial evidence that fracking and enhanced oil recovery often contaminate groundwater, but it does not estimate how many gallons of water are spoiled.
A USGS estimate from 2014 found that the entire state uses 38 billion gallons of water per day, so defenders of fracking will note that statistically speaking, the 4.5 billion gallons of water used annually is a drop in the bucket.
**Yes, but, other uses do not permanently remove the water from the hydrogeological cycle the way frac’ing and steam injection/enhanced recovery do. Media most often ignore this vital difference. Refer to 2012 AER reference below.**
Kretzmann warns that in a drought — which has led to water restrictions on some residents — every drop counts.
“Even though there isn’t an estimate, we know the contamination figures are substantial,” he said.
“There have been many instances of fracking breaking into groundwater and rendering it unusable. All of that water could have gone to farms or to people in homes, or to irrigation at the very least. Fracking is in direct competition with farmers and residences over this water.”
Drought prompts state to cut off water to thousands of farms, water agencies by Kurtis Alexander, June 17, 2021, San Francisco Chronicle
Thousands of farms and water agencies that rely on flows from California’s vast delta watershed, including some in the Bay Area, are being told to stop drawing water from its rivers and creeks because there’s not enough to go around.
The extraordinary directive, issued Tuesday by state regulators amid a deepening drought, targets 4,300 “junior” water rights holders between Fresno County and the Oregon border and forces them to turn to sources of water other than surface supplies, such as wells or storage — or go without water entirely.
The restrictions are likely to hit California farmers the hardest, both because they use the most water and because they don’t always have alternative sources. Still, municipal suppliers, like East Bay Municipal Utility District, will also be among the water rights holders cut off from waterways, though their broader supply portfolios will help minimize the impact.
State regulators say they’re likely to broaden their directive this summer, given the gloomy hydrology, and potentially expand water restrictions to include more senior water rights holders such as the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
“This really emphasizes the seriousness of the circumstances we find ourselves in during this drought,” Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board told The Chronicle. “It’s about responding to the drought itself and the curtailment (of water) that Mother Nature is imposing upon us.”
The board’s actions mark the latest and most drastic cuts this year under California’s water rights system. The system, seldom employed to the extent it is now, is designed to ration low flows in rivers and creeks during dry times. Seniority is based largely on who has the oldest claims to the waterways, leaving a mosaic of users, both agricultural and urban, with water and without.
The water board, the agency charged with regulating state supplies, determined this week that the rivers and creeks in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta watershed, which runs from the towering Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades to San Francisco Bay, have too little water for everyone with a water right — the area represents about 40% of California. The board is also required to consider the needs of fish and wildlife.
The board subsequently began sending out notices of water unavailability to the basin’s holders of water rights acquired since 1914, considered junior holders. The notices, while not technically curtailment orders, carry potential fines for those who continue taking water. Official curtailment orders, which mean less judicial recourse for water users and potentially greater penalties, generally follow.
While the board did not provide a list of water rights holders being curtailed, the East Bay Municipal Utility District is likely to receive notice that there is no longer water available for the agency to exercise its two most important water rights: a 1924 right allowing it to divert water from the Mokelumne River to the Pardee Reservoir and a 1949 right allowing it to divert water from the Mokelumne River to the Camanche Reservoir.
District officials said the directive would have little consequence because they’ve already stopped taking water into the reservoirs.
“Because it’s been a dry year, essentially all of the snowpack has melted on the Mokelumne River,” said Michael Tognolini, the agency’s director of water and natural resources. “The runoff has receded quickly, especially in the last month or so.”
Tognolini said the district has enough water in storage to serve its 1.4 million customers without the need for mandatory water restrictions, at least for this year.
This won’t be the case for the agricultural industry. Many farmers have already been denied water from the state and federal water projects because of limited deliveries during the drought. For those with separate water rights that get cut off, it’s one more blow.
“Curtailment is not a game,” said Chris Scheuring, water attorney for the California Farm Bureau Federation. “It affects families. It affects livelihoods. I got through college on farm income.”
Already, plantings of more than 20 crops have been scaled back statewide because of the lack of water, from almonds and asparagus to watermelons and wheat, according to the California Farm Water Coalition. The total economic hit to the industry won’t be known until the year’s harvest is picked and shipped.
The shortages of water come after back-to-back winters with extremely low precipitation. The two-year period across most of the state was the second driest on record, following only 1976-77. California’s rivers, including the many that flow to the delta, have had very little water as a result.
The state water board is also sending notices to 2,300 senior water rights holders, informing them that water may be unavailable for them to draw this summer. These water users include those with pre-1914 water rights as well as those with land adjacent to a waterway, known as a riparian right.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which gets most of its water from the Tuolumne River in Yosemite, is among the many senior water rights holders in the delta watershed. During the drought of 2012-2016, which was the last time the state water board curtailed so many water rights holders, the city was ordered to stop drawing water at four locations in the Sierra. City officials ignored the directive.
While small numbers of curtailments aren’t uncommon, taking aim at senior users is rare, controversial and likely to again invite pushback. The water board began regulating water rights in 1914, and its authority to regulate rights before this time is fraught with legal uncertainty.
“We’re monitoring the situation closely,” said Will Reisman, spokesman for the SFPUC.
Trees are dying of thirst in this heat and drought by Daniel Johnson and Raquel Partelli Feltrin, June 29, 2021, Market Watch
In California, more than 129 million trees have died as a consequence of a severe drought in the last decade
Like humans, trees need water to survive on hot, dry days, and they can survive for only short times under extreme heat and dry conditions.
Central and northern Arizona have been witnessing this in recent months. A long-running drought and resulting water stress have contributed to the die-off of as many as 30% of the junipers there, according to the U.S. Forest Service. In California, over 129 million trees died as a consequence of a severe drought in the last decade, leaving highly flammable dry wood that can fuel future wildfires.
Firefighters are now closely watching these and other areas with dead or dying trees as another extremely dry year heightens the fire risk.
What happens to trees during droughts?
Trees survive by moving water from their roots to their leaves, a process known as vascular water transport.
Water moves through small cylindrical conduits, called tracheids or vessels, that are all connected. Drought disrupts the water transport by reducing the amount of water available for the tree. As moisture in the air and soil decline, air bubbles can form in the vascular system of plants, creating embolisms that block the water’s flow.
The less water that is available for trees during dry and hot periods, the higher the chances of embolisms forming in those water conduits. If a tree can’t get water to its leaves, it can’t survive.
Drought stress also weakens trees, leaving them susceptible to bark beetle infestations. During the 2012-2015 drought in the Sierra Nevada, nearly 90% of the ponderosa pines died, primarily due to infestations of western pine beetles.
Fire damage plus drought also weakens trees
Although fire is beneficial for fire-prone forests to control their density and maintain their health, our research shows that trees under drought stress are more likely to die from fires. During droughts, trees have less water for insulation and cooling against fires. They may also reduce their production of carbohydrates – tree food – during droughts, which leaves them weaker, making it harder for them to recover from fire damage.
Trees that suffer trunk damage in a fire are also less likely to survive in the following years if drought follows. When trees have fire scars, their vascular conduits tend to be less functional for water transport around those scars. Traumatic damage to the vascular tissue can also decrease their resistance to embolisms.
So burned trees are more likely to die from drought; and trees in drought are more likely to die from fire.
What does this mean for future forests?
Trees in Western forests have been dying at an alarming rate over the past two decades due to droughts, high temperatures, pests and fires. As continuing greenhouse gas emissions warm the planet and drive moisture loss, increasing the frequency, duration and intensity of droughts, research shows the U.S. and much of the world will likely witness more widespread tree deaths.
The impact that changing drought and fire regimes will have on forests farther in the future is still somewhat unclear, but several observations may offer some insight.
There is evidence of a transition from forests to shrublands or grasslands in parts of the Western U.S. Frequent burning in the same area can reinforce this transition. When drought or fire alone kills some of the trees, the forests often regenerate, but how long it will take for forests to recover to a pre-fire or pre-drought condition after a large-scale die-off or severe fire is unknown.
In the past decade, the Western U.S. has witnessed its most severe droughts in over 1,000 years, including in the Southwest and California. A recent study found subalpine forests in the central Rockies are more fire-prone now than they have been in at least 2,000 years.
Refer also to:
California regulator releases draft rule to ban frac’ing by 2024; For phase out of all “well stimulation” techniques including fracking, acidizing, gravel packing, steam flooding and steam injection. After how many aquifers permanently contaminated?
California regulators still allowing industry to inject toxic oilfield waste into drinking water aquifers, violating Safe Drinking Water Act; Companies will sue if ordered to stop. Alberta regulators break the law too, letting industry frac into drinking water aquifers, AER’s law violations even enabled by Canada’s top court
Wildfire out of control 10 km north of Fox Creek in AER’s out of control frac frenzy blanket approval pilot project, Started near Trilogy Energy plant, Traveled quickly. 3.5 hectares at 1 pm, 800 hectares a few hours later
Water Raping Frackers Remain Jail Free. Another Alberta drought-stricken county declares agricultural disaster; California drought regulators fine farmers with historical water rights $1.5 Million for taking water
A proportion (25% to 100%) of the water used in hydraulic fracturing is not recovered, and consequently this water is lost permanently to re-use, which differs from some other water uses in which water can be recovered and processed for re-use.