Section 3 Finalized: Wrapping up the water woes

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At 444 pages, the North Carolina Oil and Gas Study is an extensive document. During the month of April, Laura White will be tackling this entire document, conducting interviews with experts and breaking it down section by section so you can be as informed as possible.

The Record’s goal here is not to tell you what to think about fracking, but to arm you with the information you need to make an informed decision.

Check in a few times a week, and watch for #NCFrackFocus on Twitter for daily updates as we work our way through what you need to know. Have a specific question you want us to address? Email or Tweet @lewhite.

The part of this section that addresses water concerns culminates in some lovely speculation regarding the amount of water gas production in would require in North Carolina. Here, we finally get some of the specifications we were promised but not quite given in section two.

So get out your calculators and check my math.

If a gas well sits on 160 acres of land — although this, like so many other things, is not regulated by North Carolina as of yet — and 164 gas wells are drilled every year during the span of 30 years, then North Carolina could possibly expect a total of 4,920 wells by the time our reserves hypothetically run out.

If the drilling, fracturing and completion of a well is assumed to take three months, then 41 wells would be developed every three-month period. And if five million gallons are required per one well, with a three-day pumping time, 69 million gallons per day would be withdrawn to supply those 41 wells. If drilling operations were to pump over a period of 21 days, that total would drop to 10 million gallons per day. At three million gallons per well, these numbers range from 41 million gallons to six million gallons.

In the span of one year, at estimates of five million gallons of water per well, that’s 828 million gallons per year for a three-day withdrawal cycle or 840 million gallons per year for a 21-day withdrawal cycle. At three million gallons per well, it’s 492 million gallons per year and 504 million gallons per year, respectfully.

But assuming that all 785,000 acres of the Triassic Basins produce gas is “likely too optimistic” according to the report. So they present a chart that gives some other alternative scenarios in regards to water withdrawal. “Assume” is a nice little buzz word in this section.

And without the ability to regulate water withdrawals, the choice to withdraw water from wells at an environmentally protective rate versus the technically possible rate would be completely up to the contractors on-site. Yikes.

But because of recent droughts and raised awareness of water scarcity issues, DENR states that water demand is down across the state, meaning some water systems have an excess of water. This means those systems are paying debts for unused system capacity, with less revenue coming in to make these payments. So DENR suggests the gas industry and public water utilities work together to meet water needs for gas exploration.

With “wise management,” as the draft puts it, “adequate water supplies would likely be available to meet the needs of shale gas extraction.”

This draft report certainly doesn’t put anything in strict terms.

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