Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Not Just Oil

Water is just as necessary, not just for agriculture but for energy generation:
Our energy system depends on water. About half of the nation’s water withdrawals every day are just for cooling power plants. In addition, the oil and gas industries use tens of millions of gallons a day, injecting water into aging oil fields to improve production, and to free natural gas in shale formations through hydraulic fracturing. Those numbers are not large from a national perspective, but they can be significant locally.

All told, we withdraw more water for the energy sector than for agriculture. Unfortunately, this relationship means that water problems become energy problems that are serious enough to warrant high-level attention.

During the 2008 drought in the Southeast, power plants were within days or weeks of shutting down because of limited water supplies. In Texas today, some cities are forbidding the use of municipal water for hydraulic fracturing. The multiyear drought in the West has lowered the snowpack and water levels behind dams, reducing their power output. The United States Energy Information Administration recently issued an alert that the drought was likely to exacerbate challenges to California’s electric power market this summer, with higher risks of reliability problems and scarcity-driven price increases.

And in the Midwest, power plants are competing for water that farmers want for their devastated corn crops. Unfortunately, trends suggest that this water vulnerability will become more important with time. Population growth will mean over 100 million more people in the United States over the next four decades who will need energy and water to survive and prosper. Economic growth compounds that trend, as per-capita energy and water consumption tend to increase with affluence. Climate-change models also suggest that droughts and heat waves may be more frequent and severe.
Will Drought Cause the Next Blackout? (New York Times)
Lets start from the beginning of the fracking process. Each well requires between 5-10 million gallons of fresh water (depending on the industry source for the estimate). We’ll give the frackers the benefit of the doubt and go with 5 million gallons of water per well.

They take this 5 million gallons of water and pour it down a newly drilled gas well. Proprietary chemicals are then added to the well at different points in the fracking process to achieve different results. Some of these chemicals are added first, some last, some in between. This is important to note because it makes reusing the “frack fluid” impossible without some sort of treatment. You can’t get the flour back out of a loaf of bread without a lot of work.

When the fracking is completed, about 10% of the water/chemical mixture flows back out of the well according to the industry. They call this “waste water” and more frequently “flow back”. It’s only waste water above ground. If it’s still in the well, it’s benign.

10% of 5 million is 500,000 gallons. The treatment, or disposal wells are not next to the gas well. At a high estimate of 11,000 gallons of water per tanker truck, this means at least 45 tanker trucks full of wastewater to be trucked away after each well is fracked.
Doing Some Math on Fracking Propaganda (Naked Capitalism)

And to bring it closer to home:
Madison - Thousands of people are without power Tuesday after severe thunderstorms rolled through southern Wisconsin.

Alliant Energy reported more than 12,000 customers were without service at one point after strong winds and heavy rain pounded the area. WKOW-TV ( reports authorities in Green, Iowa and Rock counties report some storm damage and downed trees.

WTMJ-620 was also reporting that 1,100 customers were without power in Waukesha along with 300 in New Berlin.
 Over the past few weeks, we've had power outages in the Minneapolis and Washington D.C. offices unrelated to any storms. Hmmmmm.....

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