While the availability of energy and water for future generations largely depends on the relationship between the two, this relationship often remains missing from policy and industry conversations around both resources. This was the contention of some of the nation's leading policy and industry experts during a lively discussion at the ClimateWeek Energy-Water nexus event.
Energy production requires the consumption of our finite water resources and the magnitude of that consumption will affect the amount of clean water available in future years. As business leaders, policy makers, and researchers debate the future of energy, it is important to consider the impact on available water resources as part of the equation. Here's why:
1. The link between energy production and water availability is clear. Energy concerns are going beyond resource availability and associated carbon dioxide emissions. One marked example of this is how quickly the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas -- or fracking -- debate has evolved in Texas.
This summer, Texas was the first U.S. state to pass a bill requiring the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking fluids. The bill responded to fears that the chemicals may be tainting local water supplies. This fall, in the midst of one of the most severe droughts in a century, Texas then imposed a water consumption restriction cracking down on the water use by oil and natural gas producers, who have historically been exempt from such rules. The limits aim to reduce the water withdrawal used for fracking of shale gas in the region.
In a season, the regional debate around fracking shifted from "What are you putting in my water?" to include "How much of my water are you using?" What we can learn from the Lone Star state is this: the issue of water consumption has become an energy concern.
2. Not all energy alternatives make an equal splash. Energy production consumes vastly different amounts of water depending on the source.
According to the World Policy Institute, the volume of water used to produce the energy required to drive from New York City to Washington, D.C. is 32 gallons when the fuel source is traditional oil and 33 gallons when the fuel is unconventional natural gas. That volume is reduced to just 5 gallons when the fuel source is natural gas from conventional land extraction [PDF].