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By investing in new technologies and infrastructure, together they can help reduce problems associated with water shortages

Energy Industry Water Managementzhangyang13576997233 / 123RF Stock Photo

Study reveals how oil and gas companies, utility companies, local, state, and federal governments can work together to protect water resources in the U.S.

While both humans and their commercial operations rely on fresh water more than ever, sources of clean water are becoming scarcer. Climate change, droughts, increasing agricultural needs, water pollution, and global economic and population growth all contribute to frequent freshwater supply disruptions.

A recent report by Barclays, a transatlantic bank, maintains that the energy industry, a large consumer of water, can have a positive impact on alleviating water shortages worldwide, including in the United States.

Demand on Freshwater Sources

While water use in the U.S. energy industry is small compared to its use in agriculture, it still is significant. Use of fresh water has increased over the years, especially with oil and gas extraction methods such as hydraulic fracturing. Criticism of some of the industry’s wastewater disposal practices also has increased.

A lack of investment in public utility infrastructure, on top of poor freshwater and wastewater management, can lead to compromised water supplies and threats to public health. The report argues that investment in new technologies and practices — as well as collective action between the energy companies, the water utility industry, and the government — can lead to cleaner freshwater resources and save them for other uses, all while improving the oil and gas companies’ bottom line.

Zachary Sadow, energy equity research analyst at Barclays, agrees that reducing our reliance on fresh water is the best way to handle unforeseen water resource conditions. He said:

Water scarcity is an enormous and undeniable challenge for both society and the environment, but also presents an opportunity for sustainable investment. The water challenge report demonstrates the crucial need for investment in water-related technologies and infrastructure that enable oil and gas operators, the utility industry and governments to treat wastewater effectively as a resource. Ultimately, the companies that can reduce freshwater usage and costs will be best positioned for an uncertain water future.

Water Conservation and Water Reuse

By adopting robust water management processes and increasing water reuse, oil and gas companies can reduce their reliance on fresh water. One way to decrease freshwater acquisition is to seek alternative sources of water, including recycled municipal water. Water treatments such as desalination and wastewater processing also can reduce the industry’s dependence on fresh water.

For example, technologies such as Fluence’s containerized EcoBox™ water reuse system, and its membrane aerated biofilm reactors (MABR) are affordable and cost-effective solutions to scarce freshwater resources. Even in remote areas, these decentralized systems can effectively treat a range of wastewater streams for reuse, including grey water, and industrial and municipal wastewater effluent.

Collaboration Between Industries and Government

While the energy industry relies on water for its oil and gas production, the water utility industry relies on electricity for its water treatment processing and distribution.

The Barclays report recommends public-private partnerships, as well as increased capital investment in the water utility industry, to encourage the use of new technologies and alleviate water scarcity.

Adopting alternative water sources, including saline or municipal effluent, can sometimes be challenging due to outdated legislation. New regulations that encourage public-private partnerships, capital investment in water system infrastructure, the use of innovative technologies, and collaboration among complementary industries may lead to lower operating costs, improved water management practices, and the preservation of water resources.

All in all, robust water management, including increased water treatment and water reuse processing, and investment in innovative technologies and water infrastructure, can lead to more efficient use of water resources. Collaboration between oil and gas operators, the utility industry, and governments are also keys to reducing the many environmental, social, and economic risks associated with water shortages.

The full report, “The Water Challenge: Preserving a Global Resource,” is available from the Barclays Social Innovation Facility.

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