In the United States, more than 50 percent of reserves of shale and tight gas—gas trapped in especially hard, non-permeable rock—are located in areas of medium to extremely high baseline water stress. Water users in these areas, highlighted in on the map above, already face high levels of competition for the same supplies. Shale and tight gas drillers use a small percentage of water compared to other industrial users in the United States, but individual wells need large volumes of water during short periods of time for hydraulic fracturing. These short but intense demands add up and can threaten to displace other water users. Over time, freshwater availability in shale development areas could decline as demand from homes and farms starts competing with hydraulic fracturing operations.
These concerns extend beyond the United States, too. In the 10 countries with the largest shale and tight gas reserves, 60 percent of the reserves are located in in areas facing medium to extremely high baseline water stress. Energy companies operating in these high-demand and limited-supply areas will likely see pollution and competition-related stress increase in the coming years.
Some energy firms have already started planning risk-mitigation strategies to account for potential scarcity, even though they are costly. Antero Resources Inc.plans to spend more than $500 million dollars on an 80-mile pipeline, just to secure water supply for its shale development. Unless all stakeholders work together to protect shared water resources, risks will steadily increase.