By Adam Scow and Hollin Kretzmann
Each day, the oil and gas industry uses more than 2 million gallons of water on average in California on dangerous extraction techniques such as fracking, acidizing, and cyclic steam injection. At a time when California is facing the worst drought on record, when farmers and cities are both struggling to find ways to conserve water, the oil and gas industry continues to use, contaminate, and dispose of staggering amounts of precious water resources each day.
Data is beginning to emerge about the alarming amounts of water being used and wasted by the oil industry in California. Below is an estimation of the amount of water used, based on data provided by the oil and gas industry to state and regional agencies.
Cyclic Steam Injection. According to a recent report from the California Department of Conservation’s Divison of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), an average of 480,000 barrels of water per day (roughly 20 million gallons/day) is injected for cyclic steam projects in California. Not all of this water is fresh water because certain operations reuse some amount of water during the process. Because the industry refuses to disclose how much freshwater they use in the process, and they are not required to do so, we looked at the amount of freshwater purchased by the oil industry in Kern County, where over 2/3 of California’s oil reserves are located, to estimate how much freshwater is used in the cyclic steam process. In 2008 about 15 percent of the total amount of water injected in Kern was fresh water purchased from the State Water Project via local water districts.
We based our estimates on the conservative assumption that only 10 percent of the 20 million gallons of water injected per day is fresh water that could otherwise be conserved or used for municipal and agricultural purposes, which amounts to roughly 2 million gallons each and every day. The true number is likely to be higher because some cyclic steam projects recycle far less water. For example, the Indian Pilot Wells Project in San Benito County estimated that over one million gallons of freshwater would be needed for each of 15 separate wells, and that all of the water would be extracted from the Bitterwater Valley Groundwater Basin.
Acidizing, gravel packing, and fracking in Los Angeles Air Basin. In one year of reporting, the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s data show that oil and gas companies in Orange and Los Angeles counties used over 15 million gallons of water for acidizing, gravel packing, and hydraulic fracturing. That amounts to 41,000 gallons per day just in those two counties. Because DOGGR has not collected data on acidizing and gravel packing on other counties, it is difficult to estimate the amount of water used for these techniques in other parts of the state, particularly in Kern County. If acidizing is performed as routinely on wells in Kern County as it is in Orange and Los Angeles Counties, the total water usage attributable to acidizing and gravel packing could be many times higher.
Fracking throughout California. Reports from FracFocus and DOGGR’s website show fracking has occurred over 200 times in 2014. Reports of water use total 12.8 million gallons so far in 2014 (through May, since it takes two months for water use reports to become available). This is equivalent to roughly 94,000 gallons per day.
Total Water Use. In sum, water use by extreme oil and gas production amounts to approximately 2.14 million gallons every day. These numbers are estimates, and they are likely to be conservative due to the unreported well stimulation events occurring throughout the state and the likelihood that water recycling rates are significantly lower at cyclic steam injection projects. The true figures for water use by these extraction techniques are likely far larger.
 California Department of Conservation, Monthly Oil and Gas Production and Injection Report, February 2014, p. 5.
California Drought is No Problem for Kern County Oil Producers, Circle of Blue: http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2010/world/california-drought-is-n…,ftp://ftp.consrv.ca.gov/pub/oil/annual_reports/2009/0101summary1_09.pdf
 Revised Initial Study, Mitigated Negative Declaration, Project Indian Pilot Wells Program, County of San Benito, Pg. 65.