Drought Resilience of Water Supplies for Shale Gas Extraction and Related Power Generation in Texas

Monday, 15 December 2014
Robert C Reedy, Bridget R Scanlon, Jean-Philippe Nicot and Kristine Uhlman, University of Texas at Austin, Bureau of Economic Geology, Jackson School of Geosciences, Austin, TX, United States
There is considerable concern about water availability to support energy production in Texas, particularly considering that many of the shale plays are in semiarid areas of Texas and the state experienced the most extreme drought on record in 2011. The Eagle Ford shale play provides an excellent case study. Hydraulic fracturing water use for shale gas extraction in the play totaled ~ 12 billion gallons (bgal) in 2012, representing ~7 – 10% of total water use in the 16 county play area. The dominant source of water is groundwater which is not highly vulnerable to drought from a recharge perspective because water is primarily stored in the confined portion of aquifers that were recharged thousands of years ago. Water supply drought vulnerability results primarily from increased water use for irrigation. Irrigation water use in the Eagle Ford play was 30 billion gallons higher in the 2011 drought year relative to 2010. Recent trends toward increased use of brackish groundwater for shale gas extraction in the Eagle Ford also reduce pressure on fresh water resources. Evaluating the impacts of natural gas development on water resources should consider the use of natural gas in power generation, which now represents 50% of power generation in Texas. Water consumed in extracting the natural gas required for power generation is equivalent to ~7% of the water consumed in cooling these power plants in the state. However, natural gas production from shale plays can be overall beneficial in terms of water resources in the state because natural gas combined cycle power generation decreases water consumption by ~60% relative to traditional coal, nuclear, and natural gas plants that use steam turbine generation. This reduced water consumption enhances drought resilience of power generation in the state. In addition, natural gas combined cycle plants provide peaking capacity that complements increasing renewable wind generation which has no cooling water requirement. However, water savings related to power generation is not collocated with water used for shale gas extraction. Analysis of drought impacts on water energy interdependence should consider both water for energy extraction and power generation to assess net impacts.