A shortage of fresh water could curtail the development of fracking for shale oil and gas in many parts of the world, according to a report by the World Resources Institute (WRI).
The study said shale resources are unevenly distributed worldwide and are mostly not located where freshwater is abundant.
The WRI research found that 38% of shale resources are in areas that are either arid or under high levels of water stress (where the demand for water exceeds the available amount during a certain period).
In the UK, 34% of shale ‘plays’ face high water stress or arid conditions. In China, the figure is 61% and in Argentina, 72%.
The report’s key findings include:
- Eight of the 20 countries with the largest shale gas resources face arid conditions or high to extremely high baseline water stress where the shale resources are located; this includes China, Algeria, Mexico, South Africa, Libya, Pakistan, Egypt, and India.
- 386 million people live on the land over shale plays, and in 40% of them, irrigated agriculture is the largest water user – so drilling and hydraulic fracturing would compete with other demands for freshwater.
- Hydrological conditions vary spatially and seasonally across shale plays – so the ability to meet freshwater demands for fracking is highly unpredictable. Public concern over increased competition and impacts on freshwater availability could threaten a company’s social license to operate.
The WRI report concluded: “Companies developing shale resources internationally are likely to face serious challenges to accessing freshwater in many parts of the world.
“These challenges highlight a strong business case for strategic company engagement in sustainable water management at local and regional levels. They also point to a need for companies to work with governments and other sectors to minimize environmental impacts and water resources depletion.”