Quick question: Which uses more water, growing vegetables or hydraulic fracturing — i.e. fracking — to produce oil and natural gas?

Ask that question of folks who work for the energy industry and odds are good they will quickly tell you agriculture consumes far more water than fracking.

Ask that same question to activists trying to stop fracking and odds are good they will just as quickly respond with claims that fracking uses so much water that it threatens ground supplies.

An unexpected answer

The right answer, according to a recent study done for the Western Energy Alliance, found that fracking in states of the Mountain West region uses far less water than a whole host of activities, including golf courses.

Three of the six states in the study report water-usage statewide and in all three — Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming — all oil and natural gas activities, not just fracking, use less than one percent of all consumed water.

In Colorado, according to the study, the biggest water users are "Coors Brewing Company, Colorado Steel Company, Cargill, Swift Company, Kodak, mining facilities, and golf courses."

What about jobs per gallon?

Another way of measuring water use and fracking is comparing the number of jobs created as a result of energy activities.

Using government jobs data and five million gallons of water — the typical amount required in a fracking operation — as its basis of comparison, Energy In Depth found fracking far out-distances other energy sources.

Five jobs are created by fracking for every five million gallons of water used, compared to four jobs for solar power, and less than one for nuclear power and biomass.

The EID folks also looked at golf courses, even though they are net energy users, and found they create slightly more than two jobs for every five million gallons of water used.

Show us your data

Both Western Energy Alliance and EID are funded by the fossil fuel industry, so environmental activists reject their studies as biased by the economic interests involved.

But environment activists also represent economic and ideological interests and are far from free of equally powerful biases.

How to know who to believe? Here's the fail-safe: Whenever anybody on any side of a public policy issue makes statistical claims, ask to see their data calculations. Those that refuse to do so have something to hide.

On today's washingtonexaminer.com

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EXography/Luke Rosiak: Hope and change? Congressional re-election rates bolster status quo.

Watchdog/Mark Flatten (Second of a five-part series): A fatal level of trust in VA.

Watchdog/Mark Tapscott: Is the FOIA the law most frequently broken by federal officials?

Columnists/Sean Higgins: In Minnesota, being your own boss doesn't mean you won't be unionized.

Columnists/Gene Healy: Just wait until Ferguson police get federally funded drones.

PennAve/Susan Crabtree: Privacy rights could trump transparency as Congress debates Ferguson policing.

PennAve/Betsy Woodruff: Joni Ernst has already changed the debate on military sexual assault legislation.

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Video Morning Examiner: Morning Examiner with Steve Doty for Aug. 19.

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