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Shale Gas and Tight Oil Shale Energy Resources Face Water Stress

| Author / Editor: Paul Reig, Andrew Maddocks / Dominik Stephan

Developing shale gas and tight oil resources may result in lowering the CO2 emission. However, exploring the oil may pose risk to the environment. Hence, countries have to be careful while taking the decision of exploring this hidden shale gas and oil. World Resources Institute (WRI) gives some recommendations.

Water stress at shale plays around the world. Around 20 labeled countries have the world’s largest technically recoverable shale gas resources. Circle color indicates average water stress level across a country’s shale plays –circle size indicates overall volume of recoverable shale resources.
Water stress at shale plays around the world. Around 20 labeled countries have the world’s largest technically recoverable shale gas resources. Circle color indicates average water stress level across a country’s shale plays –circle size indicates overall volume of recoverable shale resources.
(Picture: World Resource Institute)

Right now, dozens of countries around the world are deciding whether or not to develop their shale gas and tight oil resources (tight oil deposits are trapped in fine-grained sedimentary rock, including shale). It is easy to understand why – shale gas could boost the world’s recoverable natural gas resources by 47 per cent, cut greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal, create new revenue and jobs and raise national energy supplies.

However, extracting natural gas and tight oil from shale poses environmental risks, especially when it comes to the water. Hydraulic fracturing requires up to 25 million litres of fresh water per well, meaning shale resources can be hard to develop where fresh water is hard to find— including in some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and populations.

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The Water Issues of Shale Productions

As interest in shale resources grows, the time is ripe to understand these constraints and act to mitigate risks to companies, farms, and people around as-yet undeveloped shale plays. A new WRI report, ‘Global Shale Gas Development: Water Availability and Business Risks’, analyzes water availability across all potential commercial shale resources worldwide for the first time, and shows that limited water availability could pose challenges to shale resource development on six continents.

Variation in shale resources and water stress In the 20 countries with the largest shale gas and tight oil resources, WRI analyzed the level of water stress across every play in each country. For shale gas, WRI found plays in 40 per cent of those countries face high water stress or arid conditions: China, Algeria, Mexico, South Africa, Libya, Pakistan, Egypt and India.

China – Shale Bonanza or Environmental Risk?

But water availability and shale resources vary from country to country, making hydraulic fracturing’s promise and peril unique in almost every location. For instance, China has the world’s largest commercially viable shale gas resources. But over 60 per cent of those resources are in areas with high water stress or arid conditions—a worrying fact given the country’s existing environmental concerns.

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