Misleading claims from IGas on fracking water usage

Glancing at IGas’s website we were struck by the interesting claim

The quantity of water required to frack an onshore shale gas well is broadly the same amount used to irrigate the typical British golf course each month. There are over 7,500 golf courses across the UK. This is also equivalent to the amount of water needed to run a 1,000MW coal-fired power plant for just 12 hours.


We addressed the commonly made, but misleading, claim that fracking uses the same amount of water as a golf course in our post https://www.refracktion.org/index.php/youd-think-you-could-trust-the-royal-society/ back in 2013. It seems the Royal Society had blithely published this “factoid” citing the report “Gas Works? Shale gas and its policy implications” by Simon Moore 2012 as its source for this information. However, it turns out that Moore’s report relied on a PR document from Chesapeake Energy in America entitled ‘Water Use in Deep Shale Gas Exploration’;

where we can read



As this is an industry PR sheet there is no evidence provided to back up this statement and there is no source provided but lets run with it.

Given the reference to the 12 hours usage in a coal-fired power station it becomes clear that IGas are referencing the same claims as are made here by Chesapeake, but they have subtly changed them – the reference in the Chesapeake document would be to a golf course in the USA where the different climate means water usage would be hugely higher. [In the USA , according to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, “A typical golf course requires 100,000 to 1,000,000 gallons (378.5 m3 to 3,785 m3) of water per week in summer to maintain healthy vegetation”. This amount, which is peak usage would suggest a maximum requirement of 197,000 m3 in a year if it were multiplied by 52.]

However, IGas specifically claim here that “The quantity of water required to frack an onshore shale gas well is broadly the same amount used to irrigate the typical British golf course each month”. They also add a little twist by pointing out “There are over 7,500 golf courses across the UK.” The fact that they have added this spurious detail means they can’t even claim it’s just a careless repetition like the Royal Society’s mistake. The claim that “There are over 7,500 golf courses across the UK” is quite simply untrue. According to Golf Club Management

“Golf clubs in the UK and Ireland suffered a net loss of 42,700 members in 2011, according to a new survey.

The drop of 3.1 per cent from 2010 brings the number of club members in the British Isles down to 1,326,700, spread among 2,989 golf courses (a drop from over 3,000 in 2010).”

IGas would appear to be doubling the real number in order to attempt to minimise the perceived impact of fracking on water supplies. Why they should misrepresent such an easily verified number is beyond us.

Using 5 million gallons or 19,000 m3 every month, as IGas seem to be suggesting here (we assume they are using the same volume per frack as the original Chesapeake quote that the rest of the “information” is lifted from, but are happy to correct this if we are being unfair) , would suggest that “the typical British golf course ” would require in the order of 228,000 m3 of water each year, when even the thirstiest “typical golf course” in the USA only seems to require 86% of that. Is IGas’s claim credible? Read on 🙂

FACT: According to the Environment Agency the average annual licenced volume for water abstraction for golf courses in England is about 11,000 m3 . This licenced amount is an upper limit and therefore is higher than the actual abstraction which is closer to 6,000 m3. This report also tells us that “Environment Agency data suggest that three quarters of all water for golf course irrigation is abstracted” so we can deduce that if the typical  actual (average) abstraction volume was about 6,000 m3 then actual water usage would average about 8,000 m3 per annum. (The data used was collated in 2003, a particularly dry year, so it cannot be seen not to be representative).

The average monthly usage of “the typical British golf course” is therefore in fact about 660 m3 and not the 19,000 m3 that IGas appear to be claiming on their web site.

So IGas are exaggerating with this claim by a factor of about 30. Now is that misleading the public? We think it is.

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