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Water Stress Menaces Shale Development

by Craig Bettenhausen
September 8, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 36

A new analysis finds that 38% of the world’s shale resources are located in areas of high to extremely high water stress or arid conditions. The report from the World Resources Institute (WRI), a global research organization, combines data from the Energy Information Administration on shale formations with WRI’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas. Data in the report suggest that access to and competition for water in Algeria, China, Egypt, India, Libya, Mexico, Mongolia, Pakistan, and South Africa in particular may limit development of their large shale resources. Fracking requires large quantities of water to extract tight oil and natural gas from shale deposits, and local scarcity could set up fierce fights with residents and farmers. “This analysis should serve as a wake-up call for countries seeking to develop shale gas,” says WRI President Andrew Steer. “Energy development and responsible water management must go hand in hand.” According to the report, U.S. shale resources face medium to high exposure to water stress on average, with 37% facing high to extremely high water stress or arid conditions.

A map of the US overlaying water scarcity with the locations of shale formations.
Credit: World Resources Institute
Many shale formations are in areas with significant water scarcity.


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