The shale gas revolution, which began nearly 10 years ago in the United States, is poised to spread across the globe. For many countries, shale gas could strengthen energy security while cutting emissions.
But unlocking this massive resource comes with a significant environmental risk: access to freshwater for drinking, agriculture, and industrial use.
Dozens of countries are deciding whether or not to develop their shale gas and tight oil resources in order to reduce emissions, create new jobs, and increase national energy supplies. However, extracting natural gas and tight oil from shale poses water risk.
We analyzed water stress levels in the 20 countries with the largest shale gas and tight oil resources, and found that 40 percent face high water stress.
Years of Living Dangerously, a new Showtime series about climate change, turned its lens on how drought devastated the small town of Plainview, Texas in its first episode. In Plainview—and every other drought-stricken place across the United States—a precipitous drop in rainfall is only part of a much broader story. Underlying water stress is one important piece of that complicated puzzle. When drought strikes where baseline water stress is high, it exacerbates regions’ water woes.
As California lawmakers move forward with potential solutions to the state’s current water shortage, it’s important to consider the full context of underlying reasons for California’s water vulnerability.
Our research shows that about 66 percent of the state’s irrigated agriculture—its biggest water user—faces extremely high levels of baseline water stress. This means that more than 80 percent of the available water supply is already being used by farms, homes, businesses, and energy producers. It’s clear that even without drought, the state would be in trouble.
WRI’s Aqueduct project recently evaluated, mapped, and scored stresses on water supplies in the 100 river basins with the highest populations, 100 largest river basins, and 180 nations. We found that 18 river basins—flowing through countries with a collective $US 27 trillion in GDP—face “extremely high” levels of baseline water stress. This means that more than 80 percent of the water naturally available to agricultural, domestic, and industrial users is withdrawn annually—leaving businesses, farms, and communities vulnerable to scarcity.
New research from the World Resources Institute scores water-related risks facing 180 countries and 100 river basins. This is the first national-level data of its kind, evaluating competition for available water supplies, annual and seasonal supply variability, flood occurrence, and drought severity.
The data paints a country-level picture of water risks, information that is clearly relevant for national policymakers. But this research also holds huge implications for the private sector—particularly for shareholders and investors, corporate operations, and corporate supply chains. Multinational businesses should take notice—and take action.