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NATURAL GAS DEVELOPMENT

SAVES TEXAS WATER
A N O R T H T E X A N S F O R N AT U R A L G A S S P E C I A L R E P O R T

KEY FACTS
Increased natural gas-fired electricity generation in Texas can save 25 to 50 times
more water than what’s used during production, including water used for hydraulic
fracturing or “fracking.”
Burning natural gas produces water. Through 2013, natural gas produced from the
Barnett Shale has generated the equivalent of 40 years’ worth of residential water
for the City of Denton.

Water use for energy development in Texas is expected to decline significantly -more than 16 billion gallons per year -- in the coming decades.

Water used in energy development amounts to a little more than one percent of all
water used in Texas. Water used for fracking specifically amounts to only about 0.5
percent

Natural gas production has been an economic boon for Texas. This is especially true in North Texas, which is home to the Barnett
Shale, one of the largest producing natural gas fields in the world. According to a study released in 2014 by the Perryman Group,
the Barnett Shale has helped support more than one million Texas jobs since 2001, generating $120 billion in total economic
impact over the same period, and $11.2 billion in tax revenue for local governments.
The fact that energy production is a key part of the Texas economy is nothing new. But natural gas development in Texas has
another important benefit that is often overlooked: it helps conserve precious water resources.

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This report examines how increased use of Texas-produced natural gas helps save water; how water used in the energy
development process compares to other uses in Texas; and how natural gas development itself produces water.

P O W E R G E N E R AT I O N
N AT U R A L G A S I S G R O W I N G I N I M P O R TA N C E A S A S O U R C E O F E L E C T R I C I T Y I N T E X A S , A N D I T
I S A C R I T I C A L P A R T O F T H E S TAT E ’ S G E N E R AT I O N P O R T F O L I O . T H I S H A S P R O V I D E D C H E A P E R
E N E R G Y B I L L S A N D E N V I R O N M E N TA L B E N E F I T S , I N C L U D I N G L O W E R A I R E M I S S I O N S . I N
A D D I T I O N T O T H E S E B E N E F I T S , I T A L S O U S E S L E S S W AT E R T H A N O T H E R C O M M O N S O U R C E S .
Scientists and environmentalists have long recognized the water-related benefits of natural gas. Writing about the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency proposal called the “Clean Power Plan” (CPP), Kate Zerrenner of the Environmental Defense
Fund (EDF) observed an important and sometimes overlooked benefit to moving toward lower-carbon fuels, such as natural gas:

Switching to more natural gas is another way Texas can meet the CPP requirements while
cleaning our air and reducing our water consumption.

A 2013 study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin (UT), published in the journal Environmental Research Letters,
quantified these water savings. Based on an analysis of water use data from national and state regulatory bodies, the UT
researchers concluded that water savings linked to natural gas are significant:

Since the 1990s, the primary type of power plant built in Texas has been the natural gas
combined cycle (NGCC) plant with cooling towers, which uses fuel and cooling water more
efficiently than older steam turbine technologies. About a third of Texas power plants are
NGCC. NGCC plants consume about a third as much water as coal steam turbine (CST)
plants.

Moreover, the study concludes that by shifting its power
generation mix toward more natural gas, Texas could reduce
its freshwater consumption by 53 billion gallons per year. As
EDF’s Zerrenner has noted, this is 60 percent of the entire
water footprint of coal generation in the state.

The bottom line is that boosting natural gas production and
using more natural gas in power generation makes our
electric grid more drought resilient.
–Dr. Bridget Scanlon, Jackson School of Geosciences,
Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas at Austin

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A N O R T H T E X A N S F O R N AT U R A L G A S S P E C I A L R E P O R T

W H AT A B O U T F R A C K I N G ?
Critics have frequently alleged that hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) requires significant quantities of water, putting precious local
resources at risk. While it is true that fracking can require several million gallons of water, that quantity is dwarfed by the amount
of water saved by using more natural gas in Texas.
The UT researchers calculated that the use of natural gas to generate electricity saves Texas a net 33 gallons of water for every
gallon used statewide in the fracking process.
The UT team further estimated that moving to natural gas-generated electricity saves 25 to 50 times more water than the
amount of water used in the fracking process.

WATER SAVINGS FROM FUEL SHIFT

F O R E V E R Y G A L L O N O F WAT E R U S E D
T O P R O D U C E N AT U R A L G A S
THROUGH HYDRAULIC FRACTURING

T E X A S S AV E D 3 3 G A L L O N S O F WAT E R B Y
G E N E R AT I N G E L E C T R I C I T Y W I T H T H AT
N AT U R A L G A S I N S T E A D O F C O A L ( I N 2 0 1 1 )

Water savings are not the only benefits from shifting power generation toward natural gas. As Paul Faeth, director of energy,
water and climate at the Institute for Public Research at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), has written:

“Natural gas is also an important component of Texas’ water-saving future. The boom in shale gas fracking,
which started in Texas and spread to Pennsylvania and other states, has cut the price of natural gas about 75
percent in the last five years. At current prices, electricity generation from natural gas is much cheaper than
coal. Construction of coal-fired power plants has stopped in favor of gas plants, and old coal plants are being
converted to gas or shut down across the country…
Fracking is playing a much bigger role in pushing out coal than new regulations. There is a great water
advantage in moving from coal to gas, too, as natural gas is typically about twice as efficient and so needs just
half the water for cooling. When gas replaces coal in power generation, it not only cuts water use but also
eliminates coal’s emission of mercury, sulfur dioxide and particulates, and it reduces nitrogen oxide
emissions by 90 percent. Carbon dioxide emissions are also cut by 50 percent.

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A N O R T H T E X A N S F O R N AT U R A L G A S S P E C I A L R E P O R T

While the increased and rapid adoption of natural gas as an electricity generation source is good news in terms of water savings,
the question remains: is natural gas development still a major consumer of water at a time when conservation is critical?

W AT E R U S E I N P E R S P E C T I V E
W AT E R U S E D I N E N E R G Y D E V E L O P M E N T A M O U N T S T O A L I T T L E M O R E T H A N O N E P E R C E N T O F
A L L W AT E R U S E D I N T E X A S . W AT E R U S E D F O R F R A C K I N G S P E C I F I C A L LY A M O U N T S T O O N LY
A B O U T 0 . 5 P E R C E N T . T H I S I S S I M I L A R T O T H E R E S T O F T H E C O U N T R Y, W H E R E F R A C K I N G
A C C O U N T S F O R A B O U T 0 . 3 P E R C E N T O F T O TA L U . S . F R E S H W AT E R C O N S U M P T I O N .
Any economic development – be it renewable energy production or home building – requires water, and natural gas development
is no exception. The amount that any given industrial process consumes may sound like a lot, but he only way to fully assess the
“water footprint” of any source of demand is to put all uses in proper perspective.
In fact, the data show that most other industries – and even some household applications – use much more water than does the
energy industry, which includes but is certainly not limited to natural gas production.
Dr. Scott W. Tinker, director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas, has shown that irrigation is by far the
largest water consumer in Texas, with energy development (a subset of “mining”) being the least intensive user. The following
chart was developed from his data.

AV E R A G E S TAT E L E V E L W AT E R U S E
( A L L C AT E G O R I E S ) I N 2 0 0 1 -2 0 1 0

Beyond this, residential lawns consume 18 times more water than fracking, according to UT professor Rusty Todd.

WATER USE IN DENTON
For a specific illustration at the local level, let’s look at the numbers in Denton County. The City of Denton made headlines when
it passed an illegal ban on fracking (which was later repealed by the City Council), the culmination of a campaign that used water
consumption as a talking point.

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Misleading statements on the Frack Free Denton (FFD) website led readers to conclude that water used in fracking is lost
forever. FFD also leveraged its “water use” talking point on social media.

Natural gas is also an important component of Texas’ water-saving future. The boom in shale
gas fracking, which started in Texas and spread to Pennsylvania and other states, has cut the
price of natural gas about 75 percent in the last five years. At current prices, electricity
generation from natural gas is much cheaper than coal. Construction of coal-fired power
plants has stopped in favor of gas plants, and old coal plants are being converted to gas or
shut down across the country…
Fracking is playing a much bigger role in pushing out coal than new regulations. There is a
great water advantage in moving from coal to gas, too, as natural gas is typically about twice
as efficient and so needs just half the water for cooling. When gas replaces coal in power
generation, it not only cuts water use but also eliminates coal’s emission of mercury, sulfur
dioxide and particulates, and it reduces nitrogen oxide emissions by 90 percent. Carbon
dioxide emissions are also cut by 50 percent.

But as the historical data below show, concerns about gas industry water usage in Denton County were (and still are) misplaced:

W AT E R U S A G E – D E N T O N
C O U N T Y , T E X . 2 0 0 5 -2 0 1 3
(THE MOST RECENT YEAR
F O R W H I C H D AT A A R E
AVA I L A B L E ) ; A L L F I G U R E S
ARE IN ACRE-FEET

As the historical data show Denton County’s municipal water use was more than 56 times higher than water used for energy
development between the years 2005-2012. In 2012 in particular, the numbers are the starkest: municipal uses accounted for 90
percent more water consumption than mining. Irrigation accounted for more than double the water used in oil and gas operations
in Denton County.

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S T AT E W I D E , E X A M I N I N G T H E
CURRENT TOP TEN GAS
PRODUCING COUNTIES, WE SEE
T H AT M U N I C I PA L W AT E R U S E I N
2013 WAS MORE THAN 10 TIMES
T H AT O F O I L ,
N AT U R A L G A S , A N D O T H E R
M I N I N G - R E L AT E D
O P E R AT I O N S :

L E S S W AT E R U S E I N T H E F U T U R E
The good news is that, even though energy production is a comparatively
small water user, water consumption from energy development is also

[I]rrigation is the biggest user of water in

expected to decline significantly in the coming decades.

Texas, accounting for 61 percent. Municipal
use follows with 27 percent, then manufac-

According to a 2013 University of Texas study, not only will Texas save

turing at 6 percent, steam electric power at 3

more water as additional natural gas plants come online, but the water

percent and livestock at 2 percent. The last 1

used for that same power generation will also decline precipitously.

percent is made up of oil and gas and other
mining activities.

In his 2012 update on water used by mining related industries, Dr. Tinker
of UT projects that water used for hydraulic fracturing, after a peak in
several years, will steadily decline at least until 2060, from almost
125,000 acre-feet per year to less than 50,000 acre-feet per year.
Fresh water consumption – that is, water not returned to the water cycle
after it is withdrawn – will hold steady at its current level of approximately 70,000 acre-feet per year for several years and then significantly
decline.

-Barnett Shale Energy Education Council

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A N O R T H T E X A N S F O R N AT U R A L G A S S P E C I A L R E P O R T

S T AT E - L E V E L P R O J E C T I O N S T O
2 0 6 0 O F H F W AT E R U S E A N D
F R E S H -W AT E R C O N S U M P T I O N
A N D C O M PA R I S O N T O E A R L I E R
W AT E R P R O J E C T I O N S .

S T AT E - L E V E L P R O J E C T I O N S T O
2060 OF OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY
W AT E R U S E A N D F R E S H -W AT E R
CONSUMPTION

In its 2012 State Water Plan, the Texas Water Development Board provided statewide perspective and projections, which
indicated that “mining” would account for only 1.3 percent of water demand in Texas by 2060.

And while municipal water use is projected to rise steadily, overall “mining” use -- which includes more than just oil and gas
development -- is expected to hold steady as the lowest-demand industry.

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C R E AT I N G W AT E R W I T H N AT U R A L G A S
I N A D D I T I O N T O I T S WAT E R S AV I N G S , N AT U R A L G A S G E N E R AT E S WAT E R VA P O R W H E N I T I S B U R N E D,
H E L P I N G T O O F F S E T T H E A M O U N T O F WAT E R U S E D D U R I N G U P S T R E A M P R O D U C T I O N. N AT U R A L G A S
F R O M T H E B A R N E T T S H A L E , T H R O U G H 2 0 1 3 , G E N E R AT E D E N O U G H WAT E R T O S U P P LY T H E C I T Y O F
D E N T O N W I T H I T S R E S I D E N T I A L WAT E R N E E D S F O R 4 0 Y E A R S .

The data show that the use of natural gas development saves Texas significant amounts of water. But there is another important
and often overlooked element in the story of natural gas development and the water cycle: using natural gas also creates water.
This fact may sound surprising, but it’s actually basic chemistry. Natural gas is largely methane (CH4), each molecule of which
consists of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. When methane burns, the chemical reaction results in the release of
carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O).

2 H2O
2 O2

CO2

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Here is the process as described by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE):

When one molecule of methane is burned, it produces two molecules of water vapor. When
moles are converted to pound/mole, we find that every pound of methane fuel combusted
produces 2.25 lb. of water vapor, which is about 12% of the total exhaust by weight.

Expressed in cubic feet, methane produces about two cubic feet of water vapor (steam) for every cubic foot of gas, assuming full
combustion
Chemists at Elmhurst College note other benefits as well:

“Chemically, this combustion process consists of a reaction between methane and oxygen in
the air. When this reaction takes place, the result is carbon dioxide (CO2), water (H2O),
and a great deal of energy…
Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel...Since natural gas is mostly methane, the
combustion of natural gas releases fewer byproducts than other fossil fuels.

W AT E R W E N E E D
I S T H I S WAT E R C R E AT I O N A S I G N I F I C A N T B E N E F I T F O R T E X A N S A N D OT H E R S I N T H E R E G I O N ? H O W M U C H
WAT E R I S R E A L LY C R E AT E D T O H E L P M I T I G AT E P E R I O D S O F D R O U G H T ?

Natural gas produced from the Barnett Shale (through mid-2013) put as much water back into the water cycle as all of Denton’s
residents have used in more than 40 years. We can estimate a benefit of this scale by examining natural gas production figures
from the Barnett Shale.*
To appreciate this benefit, it is necessary to do some calculations and to translate cubic feet (which is how natural gas production is
described) into gallons and acre-feet (as we are most comfortable discussing water).
In 2013, the Barnett Shale made history by surpassing 14 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) or natural gas production. Assuming 100 percent
combustion, the burning of this fuel created 28 Tcf of water vapor (steam). Or, to put it more clearly, the combustion of this
natural gas returned 28 Tcf of steam back to the water cycle. Dr. Tinker from UT has made assumptions about gas prices and he
estimates that cumulative Barnett Shale production through 2050 will reach 45.1 Tcf. This means that in 35 years the Barnett
may return 90.2 Tcf of water back to the water cycle.

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In layman’s terms, the 14 Tcf of gas produced by the Barnett Shale through mid-2013 produced the equivalent of more than 155
billion gallons of water, or 476,426 acre-feet.
Let’s further contextualize by looking at what this water creation could mean for a single mid-sized Texas municipality — Denton,
which recently repealed its ban on fracking.
Denton is a city of about 120,000 residents. According to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), each Texas resident
uses an average of 86 gallons of water per day. Assuming Denton residents are typical Texans, we can estimate that the entire city
uses about 10,586,514 gallons, or 32.5 acre-feet, of water per day. This translates into 11,863 acre-feet per year. Natural gas
production in the Barnett Shale, through mid-2013, produced 462,426 acre-feet of water. Thus, as noted above, natural gas
produced from the Barnett Shale (through mid-2013) put as much water back into the water cycle as all of Denton’s residents have
used in more than 40 years. This is only a rough estimate, but it illustrates the scale on which natural gas development “gives back”
to the water cycle. The choice of Denton as an example was made because it attempted to ban fracking, but of course the
numbers could be applied to a municipality of any size. (Dallas, for example, is roughly 10 times the size of Denton, so Barnett
Shale natural gas production has created four years’ worth of water for all of its residents.)
Looking into the future, the picture is even more impressive.
The 90.2 Tcf of steam that could be created through 2050, using estimates from Dr. Tinker, is equivalent to 500 billion gallons of
water, or 1.5 million acre-feet. That is the equivalent of 126 years of household water consumption for all the citizens of Denton,
assuming steady population and consistent water use.
The creation of billions of gallons of much-needed water is an important complement to the economic and environmental benefits
of natural gas. Developing and using a fuel that helps put water back into the water cycle is a critical tool to help Texas and its
neighbors mitigate periods of drought.

COMPLEMENTING RENEWABLES
N AT U R A L G A S P L A N T S S U P P LY “ P E A K I N G P O W E R ” T O H E L P K E E P N O N-WAT E R-I N T E N S I V E R E N E WA B L E S –
PA R T I C U L A R LY W I N D – V I A B L E W H E N T H E I R I N H E R E N T L I M I TAT I O N S P R E V E N T T H E M F R O M M E E T I N G
M A R K E T D E M A N D.

Researchers at UT have also observed an ancillary water-saving benefit linked to the use of natural gas: its ability to act as a
“backstop” for renewables, in particular the steadily increasing use of wind-based electricity generation in Texas.

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Texas leads the nation in installed wind generation capacity, which provides 96 percent of renewable generation in the state.
However -- as is the case with solar power -- wind output is neither consistent nor controllable, and it is not always matched to
electricity market demand. Natural gas, which can be brought online almost instantly, is therefore a vital complement to this
renewable platform.
According to the UT study:

Natural gas, now ~50% of power generation in Texas, enhances drought resilience by
increasing the flexibility of power plant generators, including gas combustion turbines to
complement increasing wind generation and combined cycle generators with ~30% of
cooling water requirements of traditional steam turbine plants. These reductions in water
use are projected to continue to 2030 with increased use of natural gas and renewables.

In other words, when the wind doesn’t blow, natural gas generators insure that electricity is available when needed. Given the low
cost of natural gas, this means the state can achieve an important blend of consumer energy savings and reduced air emissions.

CONCLUSION
While abundant and inexpensive natural gas is a game changer for Texas’ economy and for the U.S. march toward energy independence, natural gas also has a positive role to play in making our state more drought resilient.
This report has demonstrated that Texas natural gas helps save significant amounts of water, which is especially important in times
of drought. While natural gas development does use water, the amount used pales in comparison to the water savings that natural
gas-generated power provides.
Natural gas, which currently generates about one-third of Texas’ energy, will only become more important in the future, as the
state’s population continues to grow and the need for affordable, reliable power increases.

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*It is beyond the scope of this report to complete a definitive analysis of all gas yield curves in Texas. However, static relative water
use in the state’s energy-producing basins can be found here:

S E E M O R E AT : N O R T H T E X A N S F O R N AT U R A L G A S .C O M