It is not unusual to hear the pronouncement from a speaker at a meeting or conference dealing with resources that while energy supply is on everyone’s mind, water supply is lurking as the greatest resource challenge facing much of the world’s population.
It is a fact that, for many people, obtaining adequate supplies of potable water for domestic use or water for crops is a first-order concern with energy supply not even on their radar.
It also is true that there is scarcely a part of the developed world where issues of adequate quantities of water for all the competing uses are not emerging to rival the traditional focus on the quality of supplies. Growing cities compete with agriculture and dry areas seek to move water to them from wetter ones, creating winners and losers, and intensifying political debates.
The energy sector is dependent on water throughout its range of activities.
The largest uses are non-consumptive, principally in cooling thermoelectric facilities or generating hydroelectric power. Recent concerns about the use of fresh water for hydraulic fracturing of Barnett Shale reservoirs in Texas and its impact on supplies available for other uses, and about the amount of water required to produce corn-based ethanol, are examples of the expanding breadth of energy-related water supply issues.
As we move toward increased use of unconventional fossil fuels we will see water issues emerge, or re-emerge, as they have with coal bed methane and with the prospect of oil shale development.
As oil and gas fields mature and produce more water, we need to explore its use for energy-related and other purposes. The injection of carbon dioxide into saline aquifers to sequester it is currently raising questions about possible migration into fresh groundwater, possibly affecting porosity and permeability through chemical reactions.
The Division of Environmental Geosciences has devoted many pages of its journal Environmental Geosciences to energy-related water issues, primarily in the water quality area. DEG-sponsored technical sessions at annual and sectional AAPG meetings have similarly dealt with these matters.
As quantity issues become more widespread and prominent, both the AAPG divisions and the parent organization have increasing motivation to bring our expertise to bear. Members of both DEG and EMD have relevant capabilities.
Part of the discussion of AAPG’s role in climate change centered around what we have and don’t have in the way of relevant expertise hence credibility. The same discussion is appropriate for the water supply area.
How can we bring our understandings of exploration, production, the subsurface and the energy resources being developed into position to inform discussions of water needs for energy and the importance of having this need adequately represented in debates about who gets available water supplies?
How can we bring the tools we use to understand the subsurface and fluids found there to better understand our least understood water resource, groundwater?
Just as climate change science provides AAPG and DEG with the opportunity to broaden the scope and relevance of our expertise, the water and energy scene provides the opportunity for us to add a dimension beyond those afforded by the traditional water organizations that have limited interest in the energy aspects.
Increased activity in the energy-water area has important implications for our Washington-directed efforts. As Congress and the executive agencies consider legislation and programs that deal with water resource priorities, AAPG-based input to ensure that energy needs, especially related to the energy areas we deal with most directly, are included in the considerations.
Our credibility in this area will be strong, for we are an energy geoscience organization and we are recognized for expertise in energy systems.
DEG’s track record in dealing with water systems adds to our portfolio of capabilities.