tcetoday | News | Water stress may hinder shale production

LIMITED availability of fresh water for fracking could hinder shale development, with 38% of shale plays in severely water-stressed or arid regions, according to a new report.

The World Resources Institute’s (WRI) new report, Global Shale Gas Development: Water Availability & Business Risks, also found that 19% of shale plays are in areas of high or extremely high seasonal rain variability and 15% are in areas with extremely high drought severity. Around 386m people live in these areas, and their domestic and agricultural water needs could be seriously impacted by large-scale fracking operations.

The report analyses the potential impact of water availability on commercial shale resources in the 20 countries with the largest shale reserves worldwide. It finds that shale developments on all continents except Antarctica are likely to be affected. The authors used seven indicators to determine water-availability, including water supply variation throughout the year, largest water users, groundwater depletion rates, and population density.

Exploitation of shale reserves has already transformed hydrocarbon markets in the US and Canada, and global shale reserves have added 47% to the world’s technically-recoverable gas resources and 11% to the world’s technically-recoverable oil. However, vast amounts of water are needed for the fracking process that makes this recovery possible. Shale developments therefore compete with domestic and agricultural needs.

Amongst the 20 countries with the highest shale gas and oil reserves, China, Mexico, South Africa, Pakistan, Mongolia and India are in the most water-stressed areas, while Algeria, Libya and Egypt are classed as arid.

“Water risk is one of the most important, but underappreciated challenges when it comes to shale gas development. With 386m 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,” says WRI president and CEO Andrew Steer.

WRI offers several recommendations for industry and governments, to ensure that water security is guaranteed and the risks to businesses are minimised. Firstly, governments should make investments to collect information on water supply and demand, while companies should carefully evaluate water-related business risks. Secondly, both governments and companies need to increase transparency by disclosing corporate water use and engaging with local regulators and communities.

The third recommendation is for government and industry to work together to develop and ensure adequate water governance. Finally, all parties must work hard to develop a water use strategy and minimise freshwater use.

“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,” says WRI associate and lead author Paul Reig.

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