A choice between water or gas? Fracking in the drought-affected West

Fracking well in Colorado's Weld County, which was placed on a federal drought-disaster list earlier this year

flickr, James Wengler

Western states are faced with multiple challenges this summer. As temperatures continue to rise, communities may be forced to choose between their dwindling water supply and their profitable oil and gas resources.

Energy developers are increasingly seeking to drill in Western lands, where waterways have dried up and crops have become more difficult to grow due to severe drought. In Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming, counties where the affects are most profound are also where fracking is happening.

Fracking, a term used to describe the process of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from shale oil, involves blasting massive amounts of water, as well as sand and chemicals, into the ground. Every fracking well may use between 80,000 to 6 million gallons, depending on local geological factors. 

Ultimately, this means that in counties in the West the price of water is increasing as life-sustaining aquifers and rivers become further depleted.

There are also concerns that fracking may be contaminating groundwater, one factor in the country's rising awareness of the dangers of fracking, recently highlighted in the Gasland II documentary.

Decisions are currently being made about governmental regulation of this type of drilling. Federal agencies are also having to decide whether to lease public lands for this type of development, in America's eastern forests as well as its Western plains.

Developers are even seeking to drill near or inside America's most treasured wild lands, like the National Parks. This is why The Wilderness Society continues to advocate for responsible development, so that these special places can be protected now and for future generations.

See the graphic below to learn more about how much water is used for fracking (courtesy of Grace Communications Foundation):

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