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Is Energy Production Imperiling the US Water Supply?

Is Energy Production Imperiling the US Water Supply?

Hydraulic fracturing to develop new natural gas supplies has been called one of the great technological breakthroughs of the 20thcentury. But a new report charges that it may also be contributing to a serious threat to another major resource – water.

U.S. energy production relies heavily on water, a new report from the Civil Society Institute prepared by Synapse Energy Economics explains, and water supplies are threatened in many areas of the country. New technologies such as fracking are adding to the water burden at a time when climate change, population growth and other forces are straining water supplies, the report claims.

Thermoelectric plants now “withdraw 41% of the nation’s fresh water -­ more than any other sector,” the report notes, and adds, “If current trends continue, water supplies will simply be unable to keep up with our growing demands.”

On an average day, the report states, the U.S. uses 85 billion gallons of water for coal plants, 45 billion gallons for nuclear plants, and 7 billion gallons for natural gas plants. Natural gas fracking requires 2 million to 6 million gallons of water per well for injection purposes.

Technologies intended to help the environment such as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) will also add to water consumption, the institute notes. CCS will require 83% more water for existing coal plants and 91% more for natural gas plants.

The institute says the costs of all this water use are not being accounted for when looking at comparative costs of “dirty energy sources” such as coal or natural gas versus renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

“Once the environmental costs of conventional fuels are recognized, it becomes clear that energy efficiency and renewable energy are bargains by comparison,” said Grant Smith, a CSI senior energy analyst. “These clean alternatives cause little if any harmful environmental impacts. On a full-cost accounting basis, clean energy would win out as the least-cost solution and solution that harbors the least risk, as our energy system would no longer threaten (or be vulnerable to) the quantity and quality of our water."

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