The dramatic rise in fracking operations in recent years helped the U.S. become the world's top oil and gas producer, but it also led to a range of environmental concerns. In addition to questions about pollution and seismic activity, critics warned that fracking could jeopardize nearby water supplies.
A recent study, however, suggests that the latter concern could be overstated.
Hydraulic fracturing uses a combination of water, sand and chemicals to crack underground shale rock and extract the oil or natural gas contained within. Industry and government data showed that fracking used nearly 250 billion gallons of water between 2005 and 2014.
Environmentalists warned that the process could cause problems in arid fracking hotspots across the western U.S.
A report in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters counters that although fracking consumes more water than conventional oil and gas drilling, the process uses far less water than underground coal and uranium mining and enhanced oil recovery.
The study also said water used in fracking is less than 1 percent of all water used for industrial purposes in the U.S. each year.
Despite the encouraging results, the researchers cautioned that local water shortages could still curb future fracking activity in drought-stricken areas — particularly mentioning the Barnett formation in northern Texas.