Can shale-rich nations safely tap into their energy production potential without overstressing water resources? During today's OnPoint, Paul Reig, an associate at the World Resources Institute and lead author of a new analysis, "Global Shale Gas Development: Water Availability & Business Risks," discusses the water-stress challenges facing many of the world's leading shale developers. Reig talks about the role of governments and businesses in managing the challenges and facilitating the development of advanced technologies and recycling techniques.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Paul Reig, an associate at the World Resources Institute and lead author of a new analysis on the world's shale resources and impacts on water availability. Paul, thank you for coming on the show.
Paul Reig: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: Paul, this report was unveiled at World Water Week last week in Europe. In it, you rank water stress for the top 20 countries in the world with commercially viable shale resources. What do you consider the most critical development coming out of your analysis?
Paul Reig: Well, first of all, thanks for the invitation today. I think what we've learned from this report is that many areas around the world where we've discovered, you know, science has led to discover that there are large amounts of shale gas and ... resources that could potentially be developed are also areas where there's either really high levels of competition for water or extremely arid conditions, which could pose limitations to accessing water.
Monica Trauzzi: So does this essentially mean we may not be able to tap into the world's full shale potential because it may not be recoverable because of these water issues?
Paul Reig: Not exactly. So if -- first one distinction, you know, technically recoverable resources means that, you know, we could potentially recover them, depending on the quality and the depth and kind of the technology available, so we're not 100 percent sure all of them are accessible from an energy perspective, but back to your question about water, I don't think it could pose, like, the limitation to it, but it could definitely factor into a challenge that would increase costs and kind of issues around accessing water to, you know, to develop the shale resources.
Monica Trauzzi: Tell us the stories of China, Argentina and the U.K. They're all a bit different, but they sort of tell the accurate picture of what's happening globally on this.
Paul Reig: Thank you. So those are three countries that we highlight because they appear as ones that, you know, could be one of the next countries to develop shale resources commercially. China's interesting because it is the largest energy producer in the world and the largest energy consumer. They've expressed interest in tapping into shale resources, but we found in this study that over 60 percent of the area where the shale is located is in areas of very high water stress or arid conditions, you know, posing potential challenges to accessing water.
The second example that I think is worth highlighting is Argentina. It's the largest natural gas producer and consumer in South America. They've already started to explore their shale resources, but in this case, most of the shale resources are in areas of very low water stress, about 70 to 72 percent of them.
And then finally, the U.K.'s an interesting example 'cause it's a combination of both. It's a country that is a key player in natural gas production in Europe. It's concerned because of its oil resources declining and it's already expressed interest in exploring shale resources, and in this case, we see that, you know, roughly 30 percent of the area's under water stress, but in the case of the U.K., it's mostly because of existing competition for water.
Monica Trauzzi: Where does the United States fall in your ranking?
Paul Reig: The U.S. falls middle to high, so right there kind of in the middle of the ranking, based on its exposure to water stress where the shale resources are located.
Monica Trauzzi: Is the key to addressing this issue to go region by region based on the different geographic and geologic challenges that we see happening?
Paul Reig: Absolutely. That's definitely one of the key findings in the report is that both the demand for water, for hydraulic fracturing, and the supply available is extremely location-sensitive and it varies greatly. So there's a huge variability in the conditions on the ground, and you know, we strongly recommend in the report that the assessments to evaluate water availability are conducted at the local level, engaging with local regulators, local stakeholders on the ground.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you think there's enough transparency and information coming out of companies that are involved in fracking operations to accurately assess how much water they're actually using in their operations?
Paul Reig: I think there's definitely starting to be the level of transparency that most stakeholders are expecting. I think we're seeing that companies are on a journey. Years ago, it was not expected of multinationals to disclose this type of information, but recently we've seen a huge push, not only from river basin stakeholders, but also from investors, to learn more about not only how much water they need but how are they managing the water that they do require, how are they mitigating the risks that they're seeing, and how are they ensuring that other stakeholders in the river basin have access to water.
Monica Trauzzi: And what role should government be playing in this in working with businesses to address the water issue?
Paul Reig: So, as part of the conclusions for this report, one of the things that we highlight is there needs to be much better governance of water resources. There is still a huge lack of available information on how much water is available on the surface, but most importantly, how much is trapped in aquifers under the ground. So the government's going to play a key role in ensuring adequate water governance so that there's water for everybody, for farms, for households, for industry, and that all stakeholders in these river basins feel confident that, you know, increasing demands for hydraulic fracturing are not threatening their water supplies.
Monica Trauzzi: How effective are recycling efforts, and is there a need for advanced recycling techniques?
Paul Reig: There is definitely a need. I think it's one of the roads forward is increasing recycling of produced water or wastewater. We're seeing a lot of efforts in industry to go that way, not only within industry, but also collaborating with other water uses, which we think is a great opportunity. For example, there are cases where industry had reached out to municipalities to access their wastewater and treat it and use it for hydraulic fracturing operations.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it there. This is an interesting piece of the fracking conversation. Thank you. Thanks for coming on the show.
Paul Reig: Yeah.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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