Choke Point: U.S. series chronicles collision between nation’s increasing energy demand and diminishing water supply
NEW YORK, Sept. 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Circle of Blue, the international network of leading journalists and scientists, today published Choke Point: U.S., a comprehensive report that is part of its commitment to produce news and actionable information about international water issues that was featured Wednesday at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York. The report finds an emerging and critical conflict in the United States between the rising demand for new sources of energy and the nation’s diminishing supplies of fresh water.
These findings, part of the worldwide reporting project that Circle of Blue will pursue as part of its CGI commitment, represent a new way to look at the economically essential and ecologically damaging accord between energy and water. Choke Point: U.S. is among the first to bring that conflict into sharp national focus.
Circle of Blue concludes that meeting the significantly higher demand has put energy production and water supply on a collision course with profound consequences. The speed and force of the collision is occurring in the places where growth is highest and water resources are under the most stress — California, the Southwest, the Rocky Mountain West and the Southeast.
“The global water crisis is a universally threatening and immensely complex problem that cuts across the planet’s most significant issues ranging from health and human rights to economic security,” said J. Carl Ganter, Circle of Blue’s director and co-founder, who announced the project’s comprehensive commitment at CGI’s annual meeting in New York in 2007. “As hundreds of billions of dollars enter the energy sector from government, companies and philanthropies, this reporting provides new data, context, and heightened awareness for informing the decisions necessary to resolve these challenges.”
For Choke Point: U.S., Circle of Blue dispatched reporters to the coal fields of southern Virginia, the high plains of the Dakotas,California‘s Central Valley, the Midwest’s farm fields, the deserts of the southwest, Northern Alberta, and to other regions. They returned with compelling new narratives of the urgent contests between energy development and water supply that can be resolved, but also pose extraordinarily difficult challenges to regional economies, governing practices, technological development and the quality of natural resources.
Choke Point: U.S. also found:
- Unless the U.S. plans more carefully, generating energy from clean alternatives is almost certain to consume much more water than the fossil fuels they are meant to replace.
- The region that is confronting the energy water choke point first and most dramatically is the Southwest. Climate change is steadily diminishing snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains. The Colorado River transports less water than it did a decade ago and may not provide enough water to power Hoover Dam’s electric generators.
- The next era of hydrocarbon development is well underway in the U.S. as energy companies tap the “unconventional” oil sands of Canada, the oil shales of the northern Great Plains, and the gas shales of the Northeast, Texas, Oklahoma and the Upper Midwest. But tapping each of these carbon-rich reserves is using three to four times as much water than the conventional oil and gas reserves they are replacing.
- Developers in North Dakota are spending roughly $7 billion annually to drill 1,000 wells a year now into the Bakken Shale and will produce 100 million barrels of oil and 100 billion cubic feet of gas this year. But the industry also is using billions of gallons of North Dakota’s scarce groundwater to fracture the shale, and generating a civic push back from farmers and rural residents concerned about the supply of groundwater.
- The source of more than half of the natural gas produced in the United States is deep shale reserves underlying the Northeast, Gulf Coast states, the West and Midwest. Each of the thousands of wells drilled each year into the unconventional gas shales requires 3 million to 6 million gallons of water injected under high pressure to fracture the rock and enable gas to flow out of the rock.
- In Kern County, Calif., where the agriculture industry and the oil industry compete for diminished supplies of water for irrigation and energy production, the winner is the oil industry.
- The energy vector in the U.S. points strongly to more fossil fuel consumption, not less.
- Carbon capture and storage technology, which is a favored tool to reduce carbon emissions from fossil-fueled electric generating plants, is undergoing a handful of tests including at a new electric-generating plant just permitted and partially financed by the Energy Department in arid Kern County. But the technology also increases water consumption at coal-fired utilities 40 percent to 90 percent, according to the Energy Department.
Through its reporting, Circle of Blue also demonstrated new uses for Fusion Tables, a new tool from Google Labs that allows management of large collections of tabular data that can be exported to detailed maps and graphics. Circle of Blue participated in the development of Fusion Tables.
Interactive graphics for the project were produced by students in the Journalism Graphics Sequence, Department of Journalism, Ball State University.
About Circle of Blue
Circle of Blue is the international, nonpartisan network of leading journalists, scientists and communications design experts that reports and presents the information necessary to respond to the global fresh water crisis and intersecting issues. It is a nonprofit affiliate of the international water, climate and policy organization, the Pacific Institute, and publishes WaterNews, the daily go-to source for global water news and data. As part of its Clinton Global Initiative commitment, Circle of Blue welcomes additional partners and sponsors with opportunities to expand its reporting, research, data and communications programs in the U.S. and abroad.
About the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI)
Established in 2005 by President Bill Clinton, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) convenes global leaders to devise and implement innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Since 2005, CGI Annual Meetings have brought together more than 125 current and former heads of state, 15 Nobel Peace Prize laureates, hundreds of leading CEOs, heads of foundations, major philanthropists, directors of the most effective nongovernmental organizations and prominent members of the media. These CGI members have made more than 1,700 commitments valued at $57 billion, which have already improved the lives of 220 million people in more than 170 countries. For more information and to review commitments, including Circle of Blue’s, visit http://www.clintonglobalinitiative.org/.