A lack of available water could crimp energy development in many of the nations with the most abundant shale oil and shale gas resources, a new study predicts.
Forty percent of the world’s countries with the largest shale oil and shale gas resources have arid conditions or steep competition for water, according to the World Resources Institute report, Global Shale Gas Development: Water Availability & Business Risk.
“Water risk is one of the most important, but underappreciated challenges when it comes to shale gas development,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of WRI. “With 386 million people living on land above shale plays, governments and business face critical choices about how to manager 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.”
Because hydraulic fracturing to stimulate oil and gas production is becoming so widespread and uses large quantities of water, there is likely to be stiff competition from other water users such as agriculture. The report found that in two-fifths of shale energy plays, agriculture is the largest user of available water.
The WRI report comes on the heels of a similar study of such water competition in the U.S. That report by CERES found that nearly half of about 25,000 operating oil and gas wells were located in areas of higher water stress.
Among the key findings of the WRI study:
- 38 percent of shale resources are in areas that are either arid or under high to extremely high levels of water stress
- 19 percent are in areas of high or extremely high seasonal variability
- 15 percent are in locations exposed to high or extremely high drought severity.
The energy-rich nations facing the most water stress include China, Algeria, Libya, Mexico, South Africa, Pakistan, Libya, Egypt, India, and Mongolia.