Raw materials, Resource use, Water

“Dear Aunty, is it true that fracking uses a lot of water?”

Yes, dears, it is. Fracking requires a lot of water to make up the fluid used to force open and extend the hairline fissures that are naturally present in the source rock.

But it’s not as water intensive as many other industries that we take for granted, and common products we all consume, food in particular.

This Institute of Mechanical Engineers report on global food production, and food waste, estimates the quantity of water used to produce many of our staple foods. You might be surprised by the results cherubs.

For instance, producing 1kg of beef uses 15,196 litres of water, 1kg of chicken meat 4,325 litres, 1kg of cheese 3,178 litres.

You could argue, sweeties, that these are things we can’t do without and so we must accept their high demands for water (vegans, on the other hand, may disagree with this!)

But what about, say, chocolate? According to the IME report, making just 1kg of chocolate uses a staggering 17,196 litres of water. In Britain, we eat an estimated 660,900,000 kg of chocolate a year. So that’s a mind-boggling 11,364,836,400,000 litres of water.

Is it justifiable to use this amount of water to make what is a luxury, none essential food my dears, especially considering that the crucial ingredient (cocoa) is grown in hot climates where the population’s access to drinking water can be quite limited?

What about milk? According to the IME report, 1 litre of milk takes 1,020 litres of water to make. In the UK, milk production in 2013-2014 is estimated to be 13 billion litres…that’s another 1,326,000,000,000 litres of water, my darlings (although some of this will be accounted for in the chocolate production numbers).

Is it justifiable to use this amount of water making milk, a product that we apparently don’t need?

Then there’s brewing beer, sweeties – approximately 148 litres of water to make just 1 pint according to the IME report. According to this European brewers report, we produced 8,041,019 pints of beer in the UK in 2011. That’s 1,190,070,812 litres of water.

Can we really justify using this amount of water to make a product that we don’t actually need?

Energy, on the other hand, we couldn’t function without pumpkins.

I’ve heard it said that a shale gas well might use 15,000,000 litres of water when fracked. That’s the same as 1.26% of the water used to make one year’s worth of beer, or 0.001% of the water used to make a year’s worth of milk.

The Institute of Directors published this report in May 2013 looking at shale gas development. In its central scenario for what shale gas might look like at peak, they suggested the UK might see 4,000 wells drilled and fracked. If each were to use the 15,000,000 litres of water, cherubs, those 4,000 wells would consume 60,000,000,000 litres over the course of about 12 years which sounds like an awful lot doesn’t it?

But that’s just 0.02% of the amount of water used to make the 7,930,800,000 kg of chocolate we’d eat in the UK in that same 12 years.

When you think of it in these terms, my dears, and you consider how much energy benefit we could obtain from all those shale gas wells (40 years worth of gas, some say) then the amount of water used doesn’t seem quite so much, does it?

Of course, my lovelies, when they’re not arguing about golf course irrigation, some people will argue that the water used in fracking is lost to us, but that’s not true as I’ve pointed out in a previous post – industry commentators suggest around 40% returns to the surface soon after fracking as flowback wastewater, is treated and returned back to the water environment, with the rest flowing back over the producing life of the wells to again be treated and put back into the water cycle.

Until next time xxx

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