On Monday the GAO released a report titled “Energy-Water Nexus: Coordinated Federal Approach Needed to Better Manage Energy and Water Tradeoffs.” This is an issue that appears to be of growing importance, particularly out West.
Water plays an important and differing role in almost every method and part of energy production, e.g., thermoelectric, biofuel, shale, or oil and gas production. The report lists several key issues that should be considered when developing and implementing national policies for energy and water resources.
1) Federal Energy and Water Policy Choices can have Varying Local Impacts
The differing geography of areas creates a need for local assessment of regulatory impact. There are not really one size fits all rules for water policies. Additionally some states already have water regulations in place for energy production.
2) Realizing the Benefits of Innovative Technologies and Approaches also Depends on Mitigating Barriers to their use
Regulatory barriers prevent the adoption of some technologies that would promote water efficiency in energy production. On pages 12-14 the report discusses several technologies that potentially could be useful, and the barriers to their production or the need for subsidies to encourage their use. This section is particularly interesting and well worth reading.
3) Making Effective Policy Choices will Continue to be a Challenge in the Absence of Comprehensive Data and Research
Essentially this section argues that the USGS needs more funding so that enhances information can be gathered on water processes. For those of you who have never had the opportunity to discuss these processes with a geologist, I can tell you that this information tends to be incredibly complex and can be difficult to gather. New technologies are helping to lower costs and increase our understanding of this complex field.
The report also recommends increased research on how new technologies can affect water use during energy production, so that new technology can be evaluated properly.
4) Coordination Among Governmental and Nongovernmental Entities is key to Improved Planning
This one is fairly obvious. There are a lot of stakeholders involved with these issues. The report recommends interaction between several federal agencies as well as industry groups, various institutes and universities, and environmental groups.
5) Uncertainties that Affect Energy and Water must be Considered in Setting Federal Policies Related to these Resources
These uncertainties include areas that have not been sufficiently researched, the future makeup of our energy mix, future legislation, and future agency actions.
This is an interesting issue that has been discussed frequently in the last few years, and will continue to be in important topic going forward. The report recommends that the Secretary of Energy establish a program to address the energy-water nexus, with involvement from other federal agencies.
UNM Natural Resources Journal 2010 Symposium on “The Water-Energy Conundrum: Water Constraints on New Energy Development in the Southwest” (includes several interesting articles)
Report: Energy production threatens to strain nation’s water supply (TheHill.com)