Energy Secretary Steven Chu should cooperate with other federal agencies to address key issues confronting energy and water, such as hydraulic fracturing processes, according to a new government report.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has called on Energy Secretary Steven Chu to establish a program to address key energy-water issues, such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), in cooperation from other federal agencies as directed by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct).
EPAct requires the Department of Energy (DOE) to “implement a program of research, development, demonstration and commercial action to address energy and water issues and assess existing federal programs, but DOE has not yet implemented this program. In not carrying out this directive, DOE is missing an opportunity to provide information that could help Congress, other federal agencies and the public better understand the key energy-water nexus issues” said the GAO report, which was issued Tuesday.
A number of agencies have responsibility for managing specific aspects of energy-water issues, including the DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, but they “do not consistently or strategically collaborate on these inextricably linked issues,” said the report, which was requested by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the ranking member of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the energy sector has been the fastest growing water consumer in the United States in recent years and is projected to account for 85% of the growth in domestic water consumption between 2005 and 2030. This “is being driven, in part, by…increased development of domestic energy and shifts to more water-intense energy sources and technologies,” GAO said.
Since 2009, GAO said it has issued five reports on the interdependency of energy and water, which have shown that a considerable amount of water is used to cool thermoelectric power plants, grow feedstocks and convert them into biofuels, as well as to extract oil and natural gas from geologic formations.
When developing and implementing national policies for energy and water, the GAO recommended, among other things, that federal agencies and Congress carefully examine the differences in the quantity and quality of water produced across different oil and gas extraction locations. “We believe that it will be important for Congress and federal agencies to consider the effects that national policies related to energy production and water use can potentially have at the local level,” the report said.
For example, “wells in the Barnett Shale formation in Texas, which is generally known to be a ‘wetter’ formation than the Marcellus Shale formation in the Northeast, typically produce three to four times more water than shale gas wells in the Marcellus. We noted that even within the same formation, produced water volumes and quality can vary greatly. The quality of produced water also varies considerably across different formations.
“Some produced water can be used for livestock or agricultural applications because the water is generally of high enough quality to not require extensive treatment, while other produced water may not be used in this way because it is of poor quality…It may contain contaminants, such as naturally occurring radionuclides, salts, metals, oils and production chemicals. Such water is typically re-injected into wells…largely because it is less costly to do so than to treat the water sufficiently to enable other uses,” the GAO said.
“It will be important for federal regulators to be cognizant of these location-related variations in the quantity and quality of produced water and their related disposal and treatment implications when they develop national regulatory policies for oil and gas development.”
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