The water footprint of hydraulic fracturing in Sichuan Basin, China

Caineng Zou, Yunyan Ni, Jian Li, Andrew Kondash, Rachel Coyte, Nancy Lauer, Huiying Cui, Fengrong Liao, Avner Vengosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Shale gas is likely to play a major role in China's transition away from coal. In addition to technological and infrastructural constraints, the main challenges to China's sustainable shale gas development are sufficient shale gas production, water availability, and adequate wastewater management. Here we present, for the first time, actual data of shale gas production and its water footprint from the Weiyuan gas field, one of the major gas fields in Sichuan Basin. We show that shale gas production rates during the first 12 months (24 million m3 per well) are similar to gas production rates in U.S. shale basins. The amount of water used for hydraulic fracturing (34,000 m3 per well) and the volume of flowback and produced (FP) water in the first 12 months (19,800 m3 per well) in Sichuan Basin are also similar to the current water footprints of hydraulic fracturing in U.S. basins. We present salinity data of the FP water (5000 to 40,000 mgCl/L) in Sichuan Basin and the treatment operations, which include sedimentation, dilution with fresh water, and recycling of the FP water for hydraulic fracturing. We utilize the water use data, empirical decline rates of shale gas and FP water productions in Sichuan Basin to generate two prediction models for water use for hydraulic fracturing and FP water production upon achieving China's goals to generate 100 billion m3 of shale gas by 2030. The first model utilizes the current water use and FP production data, and the second assumes a yearly 5% intensification of the hydraulic fracturing process. The predicted water use for hydraulic fracturing in 2030 (50–65 million m3 per year), FP water production (50–55 million m3 per year), and fresh water dilution of FP water (25 million m3 per year) constitute a water footprint that is much smaller than current water consumption and wastewater generation for coal mining, but higher than those of conventional gas production in China. Given estimates for water availability in Sichuan Basin, our predictions suggest that water might not be a limiting factor for future large-scale shale gas development in Sichuan Basin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-356
Number of pages8
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 15 Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • China
  • Flowback fluids
  • Hydraulic fracturing
  • Shale gas
  • Sichuan Basin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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