The Stream, December 14: U.S. EPA Report Links Fracking to Water Contamination

The Global Rundown

A final report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says hydraulic fracturing can contaminate water. Operators at a major hydropower dam in Mozambique have reduced electricity supplies to South Africa due to dropping water levels. Waste piles left unmanaged during Yemen’s civil war now threaten drinking water in Sanaa. Drought conditions are set to deepen next year in Kenya, putting more pressure on the country’s food security. Increased energy production will require new water management paradigms in Mexico, researchers say. Higher expenses related to water treatment could increase the cost to close the Yanacocha gold mine in Peru. A new tool will allow researchers to better assess groundwater trends in the Northern Great Plains.

“The main problem we’re now facing is in the management of waste in Yemen that is posing a real danger to the general health of residents.” –Mohammed al-Qahali, head of the science and technology department at Sanaa University, referring to a growing pile of trash near the Yemen capital that could contaminate the arid city’s water supply. Waste management systems are severely impaired due to an ongoing civil war in the country. (Reuters)

By The Numbers

8.8 meters Distance water levels have dropped in the past year at the Cahora Bassa dam in Mozambique. The dwindling reservoir at the dam, which is the largest hydropower plant in sub-Saharan Africa, forced operators to cut the electricity it supplies to South Africa by 13 percent. Bloomberg

In context: In sub-Saharan Africa, the stage is set for a particularly fierce collision between hydropower development and the new realities of the 21st century.

291 cubic meters per second Average groundwater withdrawals for irrigation from the Northern High Plains Aquifer between 2000 and 2009, a seven-fold increase from 60 years earlier. The United States Geological Survey released a new tool to help researchers model groundwater flows and trends in the aquifer, which extends across Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. USGS

$400 to 500 million Increase in the asset retirement obligation for the Yanacocha gold mine in Peru, which is nearing the end of its life. The mine’s primary owner, U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation, attributes the increase to the higher costs it expects to pay for water treatment, earthworks, and demolition when it closes the site. Reuters

In context: Listen to Circle of Blue’s new podcast exploring how mining companies are pricing water risks into their operations.

Science, Studies, And Reports

Hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas can contaminate water supplies, according to a final report on the subject released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The findings eliminate assertions made in earlier versions of the report that dismissed concerns that fracking causes “systematic” water pollution. The New York Times

In context: Learn more about how fracking plays into the conflict between rising energy demand, global climate change, and declining reserves of clean fresh water.

Energy reforms in Mexico that could increase shale gas production will require the country to reassess how it manages water, according to a paper published by researchers at Rice University. The report’s authors call on policymakers to think about water holistically, rather than as a resource to be engineered and used, in order to reduce conflicts over scarce supplies.

In context: Are the water reserves in dry northern Mexico suitable to support intense drilling and development in the Eagle Ford shale?

On The Radar

Drought conditions in Kenya could get much worse within the next six months, the United Nations said. A new early warning system predicts delayed and below-average rainfall in 2017, raising concerns that an already fragile food security situation could “deteriorate rapidly.” Reuters