Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2014OH312B

Scenario Analysis for the Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing on Stream Low Flows and Water Supplies: A Case Study of Muskingum Watershed in Eastern Ohio

Institute: Ohio
Year Established: 2014 Start Date: 2014-03-01 End Date: 2015-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $15,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $30,560

Principal Investigators: Suresh Sharma, Suresh Sharma

Abstract: Oil and natural gas production in United States has increased tremendously for the last few years. Shale gas production in the US is projected to increase by threefold covering a significant portion of all natural gas produced by 2035. Since the natural oil and gas production through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) involves a significant amount of water withdrawal, increased oil and gas production trends across various parts of the US has raised a serious concern about its potential impact on water resources, especially during low flow periods. Most of the water management decisions based on hydrologic or biologic conditions are developed using long term historical records of low flow periods without expecting water withdrawal for hydraulic fracking. This raises a serious question whether the criteria based on low flow conditions are appropriate or not given the current trends of hydraulic fracking. In addition, unanticipated water withdrawal during low flow periods may pose a serious threat to the sustainability of water supplies from water supply reservoirs. Therefore, two major objectives of this study are: 1) to analyze the potential impact of water withdrawals for hydraulic fracking on stream low flows, and 2) to analyze the water availability in a water supply reservoir of Muskingum watershed under various water acquisition scenarios associated with hydraulic fracking and population projection in future. For this, we will collect and analyze various sources of information, including current and future trends of hydraulic fracking, population, precipitation, stream flow, and climate variability of the region. We will utilize a widely accepted watershed model, Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT). At first, the SWAT model will be calibrated and validated using long term records of observed streamflows from USGS stations. In the next step, various consequences such as baseline, current, and future scenarios will be analyzed using SWAT model. Baseline scenario corresponds to water availability without hydraulic fracking, whereas the current scenario represents the water availability with current status of hydraulic fracking. Similarly, future scenario represents the water availability in immediate future of next 10-20 years with increased hydraulic fracking. Methods and tools for predicting stream flows under various plausible water withdrawal scenarios will be developed. In addition, the study will provide recommendations for developing water withdrawal policy and guidelines incorporating limits on water withdrawal during low flow periods.