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Nearly Half of U.S. Fracking Sites Overlap with Water-Stressed Regions

A new report from CERES draws a connection between water risk and hydraulic fracturing in the United States. The report adds an important dimension to the conversation about how energy use and water stress will play out in the years ahead.

The report, Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress: Growing Competitive Pressures for Water, brings together Aqueduct’s high-resolution water stress maps with FracFocus.org data on the location and water use of U.S. shale oil and gas wells. The complete map (see below) shows where potentially water-intense hydraulic fracturing is happening in water-stressed areas.

The results of the study are eye-opening: Almost half of the more than 25,000 oil and gas wells mapped by Ceres are in water basins with either high or extremely high water stress.

This report from Ceres is a great example of the kinds of analysis and study that can be done with the freely available, high-resolution, and up-to-date water risks maps that Aqueduct provides. By combining new geospatial data on issues like water, agriculture, and urban development with Aqueduct’s global water risk maps, researchers can gain new insights into how water risk influences complicated, global challenges.

However, there are more questions to answer – maps like the one in Ceres’ report do not yet take into account transfers of water between river basins, complex legal issues around water rights, or the distinction between water withdrawals and water consumption, for example. WRI’s Aqueduct project will continue looking into the complexities of water risk in shale development. We are currently working on analysis that will examine shale oil and gas deposits in water-stressed areas all around the world.

As the energy picture of the early 21st century comes into focus, it is more and more clear that shale oil and gas has a significant role to play. Indeed, the Energy Information Administration predicts that shale oil production will more than double between 2011 and 2020. It is critically important that we continue to do research to better understand the risks – especially the water risks – developing these resources can create.

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