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Water Increasingly Crucial in Energy Policies, Experts Say

Power generating plants are often located near large sources of fresh water that they use as coolant for the power-generation cycle.

Energy policymakers worldwide should look beyond supply security and environmental questions and consider water resource availability if they expect to succeed, experts said May 3 during a forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “Water has become the Achilles heel of some energy projects,” said M. Michael Hightower, head of the Water for Energy Project at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. “Many of the world’s energy resources are in very dry areas. We have to start coming up with solutions now,” he said. Supplies are growing increasingly scarce in many U.S. basins, he noted during the forum, “The Thirsty Triangle: The Water Footprint of Energy Trade Between China, Canada, and the United States.”

Every country depends on a sustainable supply of water and energy and these two resources are inextricably linked. The production of all energy sources uses water but coal, oil sands, biofuels, and shale gas have particularly large water footprints. Absent tight regulations these sources of energy can also create serious water pollution. Conversely, water treatment and distribution require considerable energy—for example the state of California uses nearly 20% of its energy to clean and transfer water. China, Canada, and the United States face significant obstacles in their efforts to provide clean, affordable energy. China is heavily dependent on coal, which according to research by the Wilson Center and Circle of Blue, accounts for 20% of the country’s water use, exacerbating pressure on the country’s already vulnerable water resources. In the United States thermal power plants use 40% of freshwater resources for once-through cooling, making them vulnerable in times of drought. Oil sands development in Canada demands a water intensive extraction and refining process, and makes up a large and growing portion of U.S. oil imports from Canada.

At this May 3 Canada Institute/China Environment Forum meeting, speakers cast a broad net examining the water footprint of energy development within Canada, the United States, and China and how energy trade among these three countries is being shaped by water constraints.

Read the rest of the article at Oil & Gas Journal.

Visit the Wilson Center for more information about this event or to view their webcast.

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