Impact of Global Climate Change on Stream Low Flows in a Hydraulic Fracking Affected Watershed

Suresh Sharma; Aashish Shrestha; Colleen E. Mclean
The impact of fresh water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing has concerned water resource scientists and communities interested in sustainable water resource management. Specifically, low flow conditions in watersheds may be further reduced due to global climate change, as it has the potential to decrease streamflow. Since an earlier study found that the current rate of fracking had some impact on water availability, this study was conducted in order to ascertain whether or not the current fracking trend will have an impact in stream low flow in the future. This study was conducted on the Muskingum watershed in Eastern Ohio, which has been subjected to the rapid expansion of hydraulic fracking. The watershed model, Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), was used for watershed simulation using the climate output of Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5). Precipitation and temperatures outputs from Max Planck Institute Earth System Model (MPI-ESM) were used to evaluate the variation in streamflow during the 21st century using three Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) scenarios: RCP 2.6; RCP 4.5; and RCP 8.5. Three future periods, namely, 2035s (2021-2050), 2055s (2051-2070) and 2085s (2070-2099) were set against the baseline condition (1995-2009). Lowest flow was projected to increase across the watershed during 2035s period compared to the remaining 50 years period, under the highest forced climate scenario (RCP8.5). Similarly, mean flow also could be expected to decrease during 2035s in the eastern, north-western and south western portion of the watershed. Additionally, the streamflow was simulated using current fracking scenarios and 2035s climate output in order to assess the impact of water withdrawal for a continuous trend of current fracking rates. A modest effect on stream low flow was detected, when extreme scenario (RCP 8.5) was considered, especially in the headwater streams. While results indicate that 14 of 32 subbasins were affected, with maximum difference up to 55% in lowest 7 days minimum low flow (considered lowest value from each year), negligible impact was detected on mean monthly and annual streamflow. Analysis with RCP 2.6 and RCP 4.5 indicated that stream low flow would not be affected especially in higher order streams. Even though a localized effect of hydraulic fracking to reduce the environmental flow was detected; this research indicated that future climate change may not have additional adverse impacts if hydraulic fracking trends are stable.
CMIP5; Climate Model; Hydrologic Analysis; MPI-ESM, SWAT; Low Flow; Drought
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