Comparison of water use for hydraulic fracturing for unconventional oil and gas versus conventional oil

Environ Sci Technol. 2014 Oct 21;48(20):12386-93. doi: 10.1021/es502506v. Epub 2014 Oct 9.


We compared water use for hydraulic fracturing (HF) for oil versus gas production within the Eagle Ford shale. We then compared HF water use for Eagle Ford oil with Bakken oil, both plays accounting for two-thirds of U.S. unconventional oil production in 2013. In the Eagle Ford, we found similar average water use in oil and gas zones per well (4.7-4.9 × 10(6) gallons [gal]/well). However, about twice as much water is used per unit of energy (water-to-oil ratio, WOR, vol water/vol oil) in the oil zone (WOR: 1.4) as in the gas zone (water-to-oil-equivalent-ratio, WOER: 0.6). We also found large differences in water use for oil between the two plays, with mean Bakken water use/well (2.0 × 10(6) gal/well) about half that in the Eagle Ford, and a third per energy unit. We attribute these variations mostly to geological differences. Water-to-oil ratios for these plays (0.6-1.4) will further decrease (0.2-0.4) based on estimated ultimate oil recovery of wells. These unconventional water-to-oil ratios (0.2-1.4) are within the lower range of those for U.S. conventional oil production (WOR: 0.1-5). Therefore, the U.S. is using more water because HF has expanded oil production, not because HF is using more water per unit of oil production.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Fossil Fuels / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hydraulic Fracking / statistics & numerical data*
  • Minerals
  • United States
  • Water
  • Water Supply / statistics & numerical data*


  • Fossil Fuels
  • Minerals
  • Water