Fracking and high-tech horizontal drilling techniques have made it possible for fossil fuel companies to tap into previously inaccessible deposits of shale resources. As a result, countries that were never previously oil and gas hotbeds–China, Argentina, and the U.K, to name a few– are now looking into ways to tap their ample shale reserves.
Factor in known shale gas deposits and tight oil, and the world’s natural gas resources expand 47% and oil resources expand 11%. But there are consequences to accessing these resources, even beyond the known environmental hazards. Extracting oil and gas from shale takes a lot of water, and in many of the places around the world with ample shale resources, baseline levels of water stress are already high. Large-scale shale operations can exacerbate droughts, which are becoming increasingly common.
A new report from the World Resources Institute (WRI) analyzes water availability at every viable shale resource, and finds some disturbing data.
Eight of the 20 countries with the biggest shale resources–including Algeria, Egypt, India, Mongolia, Mexico, Pakistan, China, and Libya–already have high baseline water stress or arid conditions. The same goes for eight of the top 20 countries with the largest tight oil resources.
Here’s the full list (of the top 17 countries):
And here’s a global perspective (click to zoom):
WRI suggests that companies should evaluate their water-related risks when considering shale operations and that governments invest in technology to collect and keep track of water supply and demand. Both sectors should become more transparent about water use, the report says. In particular, companies should look for ways to cut down on freshwater use overall, perhaps by recycling water.
We can only hope that eager countries and companies take this advice into account before they start extracting oil and gas. If nothing is done, there’s no question that these shale resources will lead to serious conflict over water supplies.