Monday, September 22, 2014

With 38 Percent of Global Shale Gas Located in Regions of Water Stress, More Oversight of Fracking Is Urgently Needed

Natural gas rig in the Piceance Basin in Colorado. Fracking in water-stressed areas poses risks to energy producers and communities.  (Credit: Energy Tomorrow/Creative Commons 2.0)  Click to enlarge.
As more data emerge, shale gas increasingly appears to be in the cross-hairs of the water-energy nexus, and far too little is being done to defuse impending conflicts.

While hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”), the process used to unleash natural gas from shale deposits, has raised serious concerns about groundwater contamination, less attention has been given to the added competition for limited water supplies the process can bring.

Each fracking well can require up to 25 million liters (6.6 million gallons) of water.

A new study by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a research group based in Washington, DC, attempts to fill this knowledge gap by overlaying known recoverable resources, or “plays,” of shale gas onto maps of water stress.   The results raise concerns.

The WRI team found that 38% of shale gas resources worldwide reside in areas that are either naturally arid, and so have limited water overall, or in areas with high to extremely high levels of water stress, which means that competition for water is already keen if not intense.

With some 386 million people living atop these shale-gas regions and agriculture the dominant water user in 40 percent of them, the stage is set for rising tensions as shale gas production competes with farmers and city dwellers for limited water.

Of the 20 countries with the largest shale gas resources believed to be technically recoverable, 8 are either in arid zones or already face high water-stress in the regions where those resources are located: Algeria, China, Egypt, India, Libya, Mexico, Pakistan and South Africa.

China, Mexico and South Africa have some of the largest shale gas plays in the world, but those gas resources are generally located in regions of high water stress. China alone is estimated to harbor as much shale gas as the United States and Mexico combined, but the majority of it resides in water-stressed zones.

(A similar study focused on just the United States published earlier this year by the research group Ceres found that nearly half of the US fracking wells in operation since 2011 are located in regions with high or extremely high water stress.)

With 38 Percent of Global Shale Gas Located in Regions of Water Stress, More Oversight of Fracking Is Urgently Needed

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