Still, Hansen said, the DEP data is the best currently available, and allowed his firm to draw some conclusions about water use and waste disposal by the industry.
They estimate, for example, that the average Marcellus well in West Virginia uses about 5 million gallons of water. Hansen said that while that sounds like a lot, it really depends on the source of the water and the season it was withdrawn from a stream or lake.
More than 80 percent of water withdrawals by the natural gas industry came from surface waters such as streams, Hansen said. Only about 8 percent of the water used came from recycling water that was previously used in an earlier fracking operation, he said.
Still, the industry has increased the share of its total water use that it recycles. About 78 percent of total flowback fluids are now reused to frack more than one well, Hansen said. Most of the wastewater from drilling operations that is not being reused is being sent to underground injection wells for disposal, Hansen said.
Overall, fifty-seven percent of "flowback fluids" remains in West Virginia for reuse or disposal. Twenty-two percent is shipped to Pennsylvania, mostly for reuse, and another 21 percent is shipped to Ohio, mostly for underground injection, Hansen said.
Hansen recommended that West Virginia require better reporting of the data, make the datasets available online in a searchable format, and compel operators who aren't reporting to do so.
"We really are talking about large quantities of water and large quantities of waste," Hansen said. "Waste handling is a crucial question. This is a 'game changer' and it has many positives associated with it. We just need to be careful to protect the environment as we go."
The full Downstream Strategies report is scheduled for public release next week. It was funded by the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation and prepared for the environmental group Earthworks.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.