JurisdictionUnited States
Water-Energy Nexus: Acquisition, Use, and Disposal of Water for Energy and Mineral Development
(Sep 2012)


Bart Miller
Western Resource Advocates
Boulder, Colorado
Michael Hightower
Sandia National Laboratories
Albuquerque, New Mexico

BART MILLER is Water Program Director at Western Resource Advocates (WRA), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the West's land, air, and water. At WRA he directs efforts to improve urban water conservation, minimize impacts of energy development, and protect and restore river flows in many river basins. He taught Water Law at the University of Colorado Law School in the fall of 2011 as an adjunct professor. Mr. Miller has written and spoken on many topics, including water development, federal reserved water rights, the Endangered Species Act, and the interface between water and energy use. Before joining WRA in 2000, he spent 4 ½ years as an attorney-advisor in the Solicitors Office in Washington, D.C., on the legal staff advising agencies within the U.S. Department of the Interior. Mr. Miller graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College in 1988 and received his J.D. from University of Colorado's School of Law in 1995.

MIKE HIGHTOWER is a Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff in the Energy Security Center at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is a civil and environmental engineer with over 30 years experience in research and development. His current efforts include research and evaluation of innovative environmental and energy technologies and the reliability, security, and protection of critical water and energy infrastructures. One of his current activities is as project leader for a Science and Technology Roadmap for DOE on Energy-Water research and development. He also helped write a Report to Congress on emerging energy and water interdependencies and challenges. Another major focus area is on natural gas and liquefied natural gas safety and security and he has authored several guidance documents, reports, and a Report to Congress on safety and security in this area. A third area of research and development is helping federal facilities improve their ability to meet their critical mission energy needs safely, securely, and reliably through the use of advanced microgrids using risk-based evaluation and design approaches. Mike holds Bachelor's and Master's degrees in civil engineering from New Mexico State University. He serves on the Board of Directors for Citizens for Responsible Energy, is past-Chair of the Waste management Education and Research Consortium Advisory Board, past-Chair of ASME's Environmental Engineering Division, and co-leader of ASME's Energy-Water Interdisciplinary Council.

Environmental Impacts of Water Use for Energy and Mineral Production

Rocky Mountain Mineral Law - Denver, September 13-14, 2012

Mike Hightower

Sandia National Laboratories


Energy and Natural Resources Discussions Not System Focused

The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author (or authors).

Please cite as: Miller, Bart, and Hightower, Michael, "Environmental Impacts of Water Use for Energy and Mineral Production,"

The Water-Energy Nexus, Paper No. 12, Page No. (Rocky Mt. Min. L. Fdn. 2012).

[Page 12-4]

Total Amount of Water in the World - Should it be a Natural Resources Concern?

Energy-Water Connections

• Energy sector accounts for 8% of worldwide fresh water withdrawals

— 40% of withdrawals in developed countries

— 27% of non-agricultural fresh water consumption in the US - could quadruple by 2030 from electricity and biofuels demand

• Energy sector contributes to water quality issues

— Traditional oil and gas produced water; biofuels, oil sands, oil shale, gas shale, and coal bed methane waste water and wastes; water drainage from coal and uranium mines; thermoelectric power plant water and air emission impact on air and surface water quality

• Water and waste water sector energy use is expected to grow substantially

— Growth in water treatment, new disinfection technologies, increased water transportation needs, etc. will increase energy intensity

— Water and waste water sector energy use could grow from 3% to 10% of total demand by 2030

[Page 12-5]

Growing Limitations on Fresh Surface and Ground Water Availability

• Little increase in surface water storage capacity since 1980

• Concerns over climate impacts on surface water supplies

• Many major ground water aquifers seeing reductions in water quality and yield

Most State Water Managers Expect Water Shortages Over The Next Decade Under Average Conditions

[Page 12-6]

Water Limitations are Already Impacting Energy Development

Climate Changes will Impact Precipitation and Regional Water Supplies and Resources

[Page 12-7]

Changes in Water Availability will Impact Watersheds and Ecosystems

Current trends show that the number, size, and severity of wildland fires has grown significantly over the past four decades Trends In Natural Wildfire Acres Burned

Water Consumption for Energy Extraction, Mining, and Processing

[Page 12-8]

Thermoelectric Power Generation Environmental Impacts on Water Resources

• High water withdrawal demand

• Increases water temperature by about 20 degrees

• Ecological issues of impingement on intake screens

• Low water use but high water consumption

• Vapor drift Issues If using waste water for cooling water

• Blowdown disposal (salt and bloclde issues)

Research Program for Electric Power Sector

• Improve dry and hybrid cooling system performance and cost

• Reduce ecological damage from intake structures for hydro, once-through, and ocean cooling

• Improve materials and cooling approaches compatible with use of degraded water

• Electric grid infrastructure upgrades to improve low water use distributed technology integration

[Page 12-9]

Cooling Water Environmental Debate

• Retook at coastal power plants and sea water cooling

— Costs, reliability, of 17,000 MW retrofit of California coastal power plants to evaporative/hybrid fresh water cooling

— Texas consideration of large coastal power plants with sea water cooling - reducing fresh water demands at low ecological cost

• Relook at EPA 316b that significantly increases water consumption - to allow thermal ecological mitigation

• Growing use of waste water for cooling and hybrid cooling, and water reuse

• Movement from concentrating solar to distributed PV

Water Use Intensity (gal/MWh)
Steam Condensing Other Uses
Plant-type Cooling Process Withdrawal Consumption Consumption
Fossil/biomass steam turbine Open-loop 20,000-50,000 ~200-600 ~30
Closed-loop 300-600 300-500
Nuclear steam turbine Open-loop 50,000-60,000 ~400 ~30
Closed-loop 500-1100 400-750
Natural Gas Combined-Cycle Open-loop 7.500-20,000 100 10
Closed-loop 225 175
Integrated Gasification Combined-Cycle Closed-loop 400 175 150
Carbon sequestration for fossil energy generation ~85% increase, in water withdrawal and consumption
Geothermal Steam Closed-loop 2000 500-1400 50
Concentrating Solar Closed-loop 825 725 10
Wind and Solar Photovoltaic N/A 0 0 2
Electric Power Generation Considerations Within an Environmental System Framework

[Page 12-10]

The Transportation Fuel Supply Challenge

Research Program for Alternative Fuels Sector

• Reduce water use for cooling in biofuels and alternative fuels production

• Reduce water use in processing

• Develop low fresh water use technologies such as algal biodiesel

• Assess non-traditional water use for fuels applications

• Assess hydrologie impacts of large cellulose biofuels, oil shale, oil sands, etc. scale up

[Page 12-11]

Oil Shale development will be regional and impact water availability and quality

• Reserves are in areas of limited water resources

• Water needed for retorting, steam flushing, and cooling up to 3 gallons per gallon of fuel

• Concerns over in situ migration of retort by-products and impact on ground water quality

Biobased Transportation Fuels System-Level Issues and Challenges

Algae may have potential advantages over corn, cellulosic materials, and other crops but has nutrient and water issues as well

[Page 12-12]

Canadian Oil Sands Production

Increasing Regional and Global interest and Supplies

Oil Sand Development Environmental Challenges and Directions

• Open Pit mining moving to total water recycling

— Pit reclamation is moving forward successfully

• More areas moving to Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD)

— Insitu processing

— Water recycled or use brackish groundwater and reinjected

• Intermediate quality crude oil of potentially up to 6 MBD

[Page 12-13]

Shale gas is extensive in North America, but development limited by water issues

• Water is used in drilling, completion, and fracturing

• 2-5 million gallons of water is needed per well

• Water recovery can be 20% to 70%

• Recovered water quality varies - from 10,000 ppm TDS to 100,000 ppm TDS

• Recovered water disposal or treatment can be problematic in some areas

• Well pads can be up to 5 km apart

Water Use per Unit Energy (gallons/MMbtu)
Natural Gas Extraction 1-2
Coal Gasification 50-100
Coal Liquefaction 20-50
Insitu Oil Shale 2-10
Relative Water Use of Gas Shale Development

• Average shale gas well yield - 2-6 BCF

• Gas shale environmental issues occuring from well completions and surface pit spills

• Renewable water availability could become the limiting factor for gas shale development

[Page 12-15]

Environmental impacts of water use for natural gas and oil shale

Bart Miller, Water Program Director

Western Resource Advocates

Natural Gas

The pace of recent natural gas development has, just in the past decade, profoundly influenced the economy in the West. It has added...

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