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Shale Gas and Tight Oil

Shale Energy Resources Face Water Stress

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Compare China to other countries, and the complexity of this water-energy trade off becomes clear. Argentina is shale rich, with the world’s second-largest technically recoverable shale gas resources. And WRI found only low to medium stress for 72 per cent of its shale resources. In countries like the United Kingdom, it is more complicated. The UK is Europe’s third-largest natural gas producer, but it is densely populated, and 34 per cent of its shale resources face high water stress.

In general, shale-energy production is vulnerable wherever surface or groundwater is limited. As water demands increase, other water users like farms and homes around these plays face higher competition for water. This could potentially spur water conflicts for the 386 million people who live on land above shale plays, particularly in regions where changes in precipitation and temperature could alter water supplies.

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Practical Recommendations for Oil an d Gas Exploaration

Fortunately, this is the perfect time to take action. Governments, in collaboration with investors, energy companies, and civil society groups, can take four steps to evaluate freshwater availability before shale energy is developed and manage water sustainably over the long term.

  • Conduct water-risk assessments with tools like the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas to understand local-level water availability and reduce business risk.
  • Engage with local regulators, communities, and industry to learn as much as possible about existing water demands, and hydrological and regulatory conditions in any river basin, while increasing transparency around shale development.
  • Ensure adequate water regulations and participatory legislative processes to guarantee water security and reduce regulatory and reputational risks.
  • Minimize freshwater use and practice corporate water stewardship to reduce impacts on water availability.

* Reig is Associate of World Resource Institute. Maddocks works in Outreach And Development for the World Resource Institute

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