The global march of the fracking industry could face a significant challenge in the form of water shortages in many of the regions the sector has earmarked for expansion.
That is the conclusion of a major new report from the World Resources Institute, released yesterday, which details how 38 per cent of the world’s commercially viable shale gas resources are located in areas with high or extremely high levels of water stress.
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“Water risk is one of the most important, but underappreciated challenges when it comes to shale gas development,” said Andrew Steer, president and chief executive of WRI, in a statement. “With 386 million people living on land above shale plays, governments and business face critical choices about how to manage their energy and water needs. This analysis should serve as a wake-up call for countries seeking to develop shale gas. Energy development and responsible water management must go hand in hand.”
The report, entitled Global Shale Gas Development: Water Availability & Business Risks, also argues that 40 per cent of countries with significant shale gas and oil reserves have “severely limited supplies of fresh water”, while 386 million people live in shale regions, increasing the likelihood of competition for water resources.
“With many countries already facing arid conditions and high water stress around the globe, this report can help to ensure that there’s enough water available for industries, farms, and people, even if shale development advances,” said Paul Reig, associate at WRI and the report’s lead author. “Thankfully, there are smart and practical steps that countries and businesses can take to help reduce the water risks posed by future shale development.”
Specifically, the report argues that country’s pursuing shale gas development should undertake formal water risk assessments before undertaking major fracking projects; better engage with local communities to address water scarcity concerns; embrace water stewardship and efficiency measures; and ensure adequate water governance is in place.
The report is likely to be welcomed by anti-fracking campaigners, who have long argued that water stress and concerns about pollution of water tables remains one of the most compelling arguments against large-scale fracking developments.
However, the warnings are unlikely to dilute the UK government’s support for new fracking projects, with ministers having consistently argued that the nascent sector is being governed by world-leading regulation that will adequately address concerns over local environmental impacts.