Velda Addison, Hart Energy

The International Energy Agency (IEA) shared some interesting statistics recently about a finite natural resource that is critical to energy production and shared insight on what deeply affects areas where scarcity is a problem. .

The resource is water. Without it, crops don’t grow, towns can wither away and drilling can be compromised. But the IEA and operators are working to reduce water use where possible.

About two-thirds of the earth’s surface is covered with water. Yet only 1% of it is available for human use.

The resource is not always available when it’s needed, exactly where it’s needed or at the proper quality. This could pose problems on many fronts, considering water is essential for not only life itself but also quality of life, including the conveniences made possible by energy production—whether it’s powering vehicles, power plants or oil and gas production growth.

Figures from the IEA show that about 580 billion cubic meters (Bcm) of freshwater is needed annually for energy production, including for hydraulic fracturing. The amount equates to about 1.6 Bcm/d, or roughly the amount needed to fill 640,000 Olympic-sized pools for 365 days, the IEA said Aug. 30.

Put another way, one day’s use of water for energy production would meet the total water needs for Coca-Cola production and beverages for five years.

As the world’s energy demand increases, so does its need for water.

In India, for example, the IEA said water needs for energy production could rise by nearly 50% in the next two decades. Energy consumption in India is expected to more than double, reaching 1,900 million tonnes of oil equivalent by 2040 as its population becomes the world’s largest.

“This rising demand could lead to serious shortages, both of water and energy,” the IEA said, noting a 2010 drought led to power outages when India’s 2.3-gigawatt Chandrapur coal-fired power station shut down. Also at risk is the U.S., where about 60% of the existing coal-fired power plants are susceptible to water supply-and-demand concerns, the IEA said.

Good news is that solutions exist. According to the IEA, these include:

  • More gas-fired and renewable power generation, which reduces water use;
  • Technology that makes use of non-freshwater sources, including saltwater, treated wastewater, storm water and reclaimed water from oil and gas operations; and
  • Economic solutions like putting an appropriate price tag on water where it is underpriced or free.

“The energy sector must adapt quickly, particularly in countries facing water scarcity,” the IEA said.

Some companies are already adapting. Among them is Approach Resources. The Fort Worth, Texas-based company unveiled a pilot centralized water management and recycling facility at its Pangea development in West Texas in 2014. The company uses brackish groundwater that comes from recycling produced water from well drilling and completion operations. The system has a processing capacity of about 330,000 barrels of water.

“The recycle system allows us to recycle 100% of our produced water,” Approach Resources CEO J. Ross Craft said in Hart Energy’s Oil & Water video tech book. “That’s massive.”

The IEA said its World Energy Outlook 2016 will feature a chapter on water that will cover current and future freshwater requirements for energy production. The outlook will be released Nov. 16.

Velda Addison can be reached at