Contrary to the conventional teachings of environmentalists, hydraulic fracturing (i.e., fracking) has at least one major environmental benefit: saving water.
Although most Americans are disturbingly ignorant about fracking, it is an issue of critical importance not only with respect to the environment but also in foreign policy and the economy. Typically, the debate is framed around priorities. If you care more about the environment, you are against fracking; but if you care more about energy independence and domestic economic opportunities, you are for fracking.
However, a new study out of the University of Texas at Austin - one of the top schools in the world for studying energy and engineering - disrupts the usual dichotomy. In a world where more and more climate change scientists are concerned about the effects of drought, the latest research shows that the water-intensive fracking method of extracting natural gas actually saves water overall.
Climate Central has the details (emphasis mine):
Electricity produced using natural gas combustion turbines and natural gas combined-cycle generators requires roughly 30 percent of the water needed for coal power plants. The study estimates that the amount of water saved by shifting a power plant from coal to natural gas is up to 50 times the amount of water lost in fracking to extract the natural gas from underground shale formations.
The study’s authors estimate that for every gallon of water used to frack for natural gas, Texas saved 33 gallons of water by using that gas for electricity generation rather than producing the same amount of power with coal. During the 2011 drought, if Texas’ natural gas-fired power plants had generated electricity with coal, the state would have consumed an additional 32 billion gallons of water, or enough to supply about 870,000 people with water, accounting for water used for fracking, according to the study.
Environmental activists have long pushed for an end to fracking in America, or at least a drastic increase in governmental regulations. If they are truly concerned with climate change, the recent research should make them think twice.