Water Usage Analysis Shows Natural Gas Less Intensive Than Coal

January 2011 Vol. 238 No. 1

A new report from the Worldwatch Institute concludes that electricity produced from natural gas uses less water than electricity from coal on a life-cycle basis – even when natural gas comes from deep shale formations.

The report draws on new information about hydraulic fracturing to conclude that while the controversial process requires locally significant amounts of water, hydraulic fracturing represents only a fraction of the total water consumed in the production of electricity from natural gas. Typical water use for a hydraulic fracturing well is 2-4 million gallons over the course of a few days, or roughly the same amount of water as is used by Washington, DC in an hour.
Worldwatch concluded that water used for hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale, the gas resource that underlies much of Appalachia, accounts for between 1-5% of total water consumption per megawatt-hour through the gas’s entire fuel cycle. In contrast, water use from electricity generation at the power plant accounts for between 80-94% of the total. For a copy of the report contact rsimon@worldwatch.org.

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