Water and its crucial role in the hydraulic fracturing process have helped boost shale gas and oil production levels in the US, positioning the country to possibly become an exporter of gas. However, the industry – and everyone else – should do what it can to reduce heavy reliance on one of the world’s most precious resources. Innovative techniques in this area are greatly needed, considering millions of gallons of water are used for the multistage fracturing process of a horizontal shale gas well. By no means is the energy industry the greatest user of water. In fact, the industry’s share ranks at the bottom when compared to other water users. Information from the US Geological Survey showed that about 41% of water is used for thermoelectric power; 37%, irrigation; 12%, public supply; 5%, industrial; 2%, aquaculture; and 1% each for mining and oil and gas, livestock, and domestic. But everyone must do their part to conserve water and devise ways to best use the resource. FracFocus.org pointed out on its website that some states and oil and gas operators are capturing water when surface water flows reach their peak during seasonal changes. “Utilizing seasonal flow differences allows planning of withdrawals to avoid potential impacts to municipal drinking water supplies or to aquatic or riparian communities,” according to its website. “In the Fayetteville shale play of Arkansas, one operator is constructing a 500-acre-ft impoundment to store water withdrawals from the Little Red River obtained during periods of high flow (storm events or hydroelectric power generation releases from Greer’s Ferry Dam upstream of the intake) when excess water is available.” The site also noted that new treatment technologies allow water recovered from fracing to be recycled. “The reuse of treated flowback fluids from hydraulic fracturing is being conducted by some operators in the Marcellus shale region and at least one operator (Devon Energy) in the Barnett shale in Texas.” These are steps in the right direction and should be implemented by all operators, if they are not already doing so. The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook, released this week, estimated that water withdrawals for energy production in 2010 were 583 Bcm. Of that figure, the volume of water withdrawn but not returned to its source was 66 Bcm. The IEA also predicted water consumption would increase 85% by 2035 as the shift toward more water-intensive power generation and output of biofuels pushes forward. “In some regions, water constraints are already affecting the reliability of existing operations and they will increasingly impose additional costs. In some cases, they could threaten the viability of projects,” the IEA said. “The vulnerability of the energy sector to water constraints is widely spread geographically, affecting, among others, shale gas development and power generation in parts of China and the United States, the operation of India’s highly water-intensive fleet of power plants, Canadian oil sands production and the maintenance of oil-field pressures in Iraq. “Managing the energy sector’s water vulnerabilities will require deployment of better technology and greater integration of energy and water policies.” Contact the author, Velda Addison, at vaddison@hartenergy.com.