Focus on Fracking: What's the Impact on Water?


Water is a key component of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Managing water starts with sourcing water needed for drilling and completions (including fracking) and ends with produced water recycling or disposal.

At ConocoPhillips, we work to conserve and protect fresh water resources (both groundwater and surface water) during all stages of a hydraulic fracturing project life cycle.


    • Fracking is the high-pressure injection of water containing sand and additives into the wellbore to create cracks in deep rock formations. This releases the trapped natural gas and oil, allowing it to flow so it can be extracted. Water is typically used only during the initial drilling and hydraulic fracturing phase of a well. After the initial phase is complete, the wells will continue to produce natural gas, oil, and produced water for decades.

FYI: We have conducted pilot projects that use non-freshwater sources (such as municipal wastewater) to hydraulically fracture wells.

    • Groundwater is water present below the Earth’s surface in the spaces between particles of soil and rock, or in fractures and cracks in rock formations. Groundwater flows slowly through water-bearing formations (aquifers) and is recharged from, and eventually flows to the surface. Natural groundwater discharge often occurs at springs and seeps and can form surface water including rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands. We are committed to protecting groundwater and surface water, and we adhere to strict well-integrity procedures and safe water management practices. We use these guiding principles to provide direction on design, construction, fluid management and monitoring. Read more here.

FYI: Since 2010, at least 25 independent studies have shown that groundwater quality is not impacted by hydraulic fracturing, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2016 $29 million, six-year study of fracking’s effect on groundwater sources. In fact, studies that have examined groundwater pollution have specifically ruled out fracking as the cause.

    • Produced water is water that is recovered together with natural gas or oil from the producing formation. It can be many times saltier than seawater, and is a byproduct associated with natural gas and oil production. If the conditions are right, produced water can be reused or recycled for hydraulic fracturing. To decide if produced water reuse makes sense, we consider availability of local water resources, the quality and quantity of available produced water, treatment requirements and the overall economics. Produced water reuse can represent an opportunity for technology and innovation. Produced water treatment enables more recycling, reduces the volume of water requiring disposal and improves disposal water quality. We are working to advance our reuse and recycling of produced water, which is minimizing the use of fresh water in our operations.

FYI: We have recycled 42 million gallons of water in produced water reuse pilots in the Eagle Ford, Bakken, Montney and Delaware Basin.



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