Report: Energy Becoming A Thirstier Resource

Courtesy of Circle of Blue, a look at a key global energy report highlighting the water constraints of energy production:

North Dakota Bakken Shale Oil Water Energy Frack Pollution

North Dakota is in the midst of a hydrocarbon production boom, as gas and oil developers tap the Bakken Shale. But the boom also is generating civic resistance in the arid region because it requires significant quantities of fresh water.

By 2035, water use for energy production rises by 20 percent and water consumption — driven by biofuel production and new power plant technologies that draw less water but evaporate more of it — jumps by 85 percent, according to the annual forecast from the International Energy Agency, a research body comprised of 28 rich-world countries.

The IEA has published its World Energy Outlook since 1994, but this is the first time that the report has included a stand-alone section on the challenges that scarce water supplies pose to energy production and electricity generation.

“The World Energy Outlook is a major resource for people looking at where the energy sector is going,” said John Rogers, the co-manager of the energy and water initiative of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit. “I think it’s great that the IEA is providing a broader perspective on the collision between the two resources.”

Michael Webber, a national expert on the connections between water and energy and an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas, agreed. “I think it’s a big deal that the IEA incorporated water into its analysis,” he told Circle of Blue.

Energy, according to the report, accounted for 15 percent of global water withdrawals in 2010. Of the 583 billion cubic meters withdrawn, slightly more than 11 percent, or 66 billion cubic meters, was consumed.

Rogers told Circle of Blue that the projected 85 percent increase in water consumption by the energy sector is certainly plausible, depending on how the assumptions about biofuels play out.

Any forecast has to make assumptions, and in its central scenario, the EIA assumed no fundamental changes in the global energy system. In other words, carbon emissions would continue to increase, fossil fuels remain dominant, and energy demand is pulled by rising living standards in China and India.

The report’s major findings are:

  • Under its central scenario, global energy demand, driven by higher living standards for the 2.6 billion people in China and India, rises by third by 2035.
  • Energy efficiency, however, can cut in half the growth in energy demand by 2035. Efficiency also brings economic benefits and reductions in carbon emissions that could delay a dangerous rise in global average temperatures, according to the report.
  • Renewable energy’s share of global electricity generation rises from 20 percent in 2010 to 31 percent by 2035.
  • Globally, subsidies for fossil fuels totaled $US533 billion in 2011, compared to just $US88 billion for renewable energy.
  • Thanks to the unconventional oil and gas reserves unlocked by a combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the United States is forecasted to become the world’s largest oil producer within the next 8 years, briefly surpassing Saudi Arabia until U.S. production begins to fall in the mid-2020s.
  • In net terms, the U.S. becomes nearly self-sufficient in total energy by 2035.

A Global Challenge
For the last three years, Circle of Blue has reported on how the rapid development of unconventional oil and gas reserves has upended traditional patterns of water use and led to a new era of resource competition within the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China.

Farmers, cities, and energy companies are drawing from the same well in places as far apart as North Dakota, where the Bakken oil boom has swiftly altered economic and civic life on the northern plains, and the deserts of Inner Mongolia, where insufficient water supplies have slowed down a coal-to-liquid fuel conversion program.

Those tensions are revealed in the IEA report, which states that “water is growing in importance as a criterion for assessing the physical, economic and environmental viability of energy projects.”

In its last few reports, the IEA made discrete references to the water constraints for the Canadian tar sands, for coal-to-liquids plants, and for shale gas, but those sentences were buried within broader sections on oil and gas development.

Though energy is undoubtedly using more water, an essential third element is needed for a complete analysis, argues Bill Ritter, the director of Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy.

“We talk about water, energy and food,” Ritter told Circle of Blue. “There could be tradeoffs for developing a fossil fuel resource that affect agriculture.”

Ritter, the governor of Colorado from 2007 to 2011, recalled a case this summer in his home state where oil companies were able to outbid farmers for water at an auction in the South Platte River basin.

Water conflict, however, is not inevitable. As the report states, many forms of renewable energy, including wind and solar photovoltaic, use little or no water, and the water demands for biofuels can be cut with efficient irrigation.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 at 12:23 am and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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About This Blog And Its Author
As the scarcity of water and energy continues to grow, the linkage between these two critical resources will become more defined and even more acute in the months ahead.  This blog is committed to analyzing and referencing articles, reports, and interviews that can help unlock the nascent, complex and expanding linkages between water and energy -- The Watergy Nexus -- and will endeavor to provide a central clearinghouse for insightful articles and comments for all to consider.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has held a lifelong interest in environmental and conservation issues, primarily as they relate to freshwater scarcity, renewable energy, and national park policy.  Working from a water-scarce base in Las Vegas with his wife and son, he is the founder of Water Politics, an organization dedicated to the identification and analysis of geopolitical water issues arising from the world’s growing and vast water deficits, and is also a co-founder of SmartMarkets, an eco-preneurial venture that applies web 2.0 technology and online social networking innovations to motivate energy & water conservation.  He previously worked for an independent power producer in Central Asia; co-authored an article appearing in the Summer 2010 issue of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal, titled: “The Water Ethic: The Inexorable Birth Of A Certain Alienable Right”; and authored an article appearing in the inaugural issue of Johns Hopkins University's Global Water Magazine in July 2010 titled: “H2Own: The Water Ethic and an Equitable Market for the Exchange of Individual Water Efficiency Credits.”