New Report Finds Power Plants Stressing Water Supplies: First Systematic National Look at Power Plant Impacts on Water and Data Quality

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Here’s the link to the report from Western Resource Advocates and the Union of Concerned Scientists. From the executive summary:

Take the average amount of water flowing over Niagara Falls in a minute. Now triple it. That’s almost how much water power plants in the United States take in for cooling each minute, on average.

In 2005, the nation’s thermoelectric power plants— which boil water to create steam, which in turn drives turbines to produce electricity—withdrew as much wa- ter as farms did, and more than four times as much as all U.S. residents. That means lighting rooms, powering computers and TVs, and running appliances requires more water, on average, than the total amount we use in our homes—washing dishes and clothes, showering, flushing toilets, and watering lawns and gardens.

This tremendous volume of water has to come from somewhere. Across the country, water demand from power plants is combining with pressure from growing populations and other needs and straining water resources—especially during droughts and heat waves.

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Here’s the joint release from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane) and the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Power plants are stressing freshwater resources around the country, according to a new report by the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a three-year research collaboration between the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a team of more than a dozen scientists. The report, “Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource,” is the first systematic assessment of how power-plant cooling affects freshwater resources across the United States and of the quality of the data available on power plant water usage.

“Our research found that power plants can be very important in terms of the pressure put on the freshwater resources we depend on—rivers, streams, lakes, and aquifers—even in unexpected places,” said lead researcher Kristen Averyt, who is deputy director of the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The UCS-organized analysis looked at different aspects of the implications of power plant water use related to the supply and demand of freshwater and to water quality issues, particularly water temperature.

“Some of the watersheds our analysis identified – in places like Texas – should come as no surprise,” said Averyt. “But unlike in arid regions, where many power plants have already minimized their water use, we found indicators of potential problems in seemingly water-rich regions like the Southeast. Here our analysis uncovered some surprises, such as the Seneca River in South Carolina and the Upper Dan in North Carolina.

“It’s important for the public to know that because many power plants depend so heavily on water, there’s a real risk that they’ll have to cut back electricity production at times when they can’t get enough cooling water,” noted Averyt. “Just ask power companies in Texas.” The record-breaking 2011 Texas drought has put so much pressure on the water supply that operators have warned that if it continues into next year, power cuts on the scale of thousands of megawatts are possible.

To gauge water-supply stress, the analysis examined the balance of local water supply and demand in each major watershed or “sub-basin” in the United States, then factored in the amount of water that power plants are using. The analysis then focused on areas where power plant demands were the largest contributor to water body stress based on the methodology.

Because of the need for good information to perform these types of analyses, the study also assessed the U.S. Department of Energy’s reporting system used to track power plant water usage. The analysis looked at what power plants reported as their water usage in 2008 – the most recent data then available.

“Uncovering power plants’ water use was not an easy task because the data reported by plant operators and compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration—the most comprehensive set of information on power plant water use and cooling technologies—was full of holes and errors,” said John Rogers, the report’s co-author and senior analyst at UCS. “We had to piece together a lot of information to get a better handle on how much water power plants were really using.

“If we had used the Department of Energy data, we would have gotten a different picture of water stress from what we see in our results,” added Rogers. “Where our analysis found water-supply stress to be driven mainly by power plants, several did not show up when we used the available data from the Energy Department.”

The report also showed that power plants are stressing water bodies by discharging water at temperatures harmful to fish and other wildlife. In 2008, 350 power plants across the country reported discharging water at temperatures of over 90 degrees Fahrenheit and some at temperatures over 110 degrees, according to the report.

“It’s unsafe for people to sit in a Jacuzzi at 105 degrees, let alone live in it,” said Rob Jackson, director of the Center on Global Environmental Change at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and a member of the report’s scientific advisory committee. “Fish and other species can’t climb out of the hot tub.”

In recent years, a number of power plants have had to cut back power production because they were unable to stay within water temperature discharge limits, according to the report. “If we start saving water today, we’ll avoid blackouts and water shortages tomorrow,” said Jackson.

Without water-smart energy choices, energy-water collisions may worsen as the population and the corresponding demand for energy and freshwater supplies grows, and as the climate changes. Water-smart technologies include wind and solar photovoltaics, which use essentially no water, and produce no carbon emissions, according to the report.

“Every time we build a power plant, we’re making decisions that last for decades,” said Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at UCS and head of the scientific advisory committee for the report. “By investing in power plants that are efficient, use low-water cooling and produce little or no carbon emissions, utilities and plant owners can help protect the water resources our kids and grandkids will depend on, and public utility commissions can encourage or require them to do so, especially where research indicates that power plants place water resources at risk.”

The leading national experts on this report and its Scientific Advisory Committee also included scientists from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Vanderbilt University, the University of Texas, Tufts University, and the University of Arizona.

More energy policy coverage here.

USDA: Locally grown food forecast to generate $7 billion in 2012

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From the Associated Press via The Washington Post:

A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report says sales of “local foods,” whether sold direct to consumers at farmers markets or through intermediaries such as grocers or restaurants, amounted to $4.8 billion in 2008. That’s a number several times greater than earlier estimates, and the department predicts locally grown foods will generate $7 billion in sales this year.

While there’s plenty of evidence local food sales have been growing, it has been hard to say by how much because governments, companies, consumers and food markets disagree on what qualifies as local. The USDA report included sales to intermediaries, such as local grocers and restaurants, as well as directly to consumers through farmers markets, roadside stands and the like.

It found that farm sales to people like Anderson have just about doubled in the past two decades, from about $650 million, adjusted for inflation, in the early 1990s to about $1.2 billion these days. The much bigger, $4.8 billion figure came when sales to local restaurants, retailers and regional food distributors were added in.

Anadarko announces expectations for Niobrara shale play: Results from eleven wells fuel 160 well drilling program for 2012

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From The Wall Street Journal (Russell Gold):

Echoing industry concerns, Mr. Hackett said he is worried that anti-drilling sentiment could prevent the projected expansion. The energy industry’s use of hydraulic fracturing, in particular, has prompted concerns about pollution; the federal government and several states are studying whether new regulations on water use and air emissions are needed…

Anadarko on Monday said that results from 11 recent wells in the Wattenberg field have given it confidence that it can drill between 1,200 and 2,700 wells in northeast Colorado. It plans to drill about 160 wells next year. Based on its early results, it expects its wells will ultimately yield between 500 million and 1.5 billion barrels of oil, natural gas liquids, and natural gas. Finding a billion barrel field is extremely rare. Only a handful of billion barrel fields have ever been found in the U.S…

Recently, companies such as Anadarko and Carrizo Oil & Gas Inc. and Noble Energy Inc. have been applying horizontal wells and hydraulic fracturing in the Wattenberg, breathing new life into the field and leading to a reappraisal of its future oil and gas potential. Anadarko says it expects its production from the region to grow at a compound annual rate of 20% between 2010 and 2012. It produced about 72,400 barrels of oil equivalents there in the last quarter.

The company also said it plans to evaluate whether new technologies can be used to extend the discovery farther north into Wyoming where recent drilling results are more hit-and-miss. Some well results have been quite good, but others have not found enough oil or gas to be considered commercial successes.

Here’s a release from Governor Hickenlooper (Eric Brown/Megan Castle):

Gov. John Hickenlooper released this statement today after Anadarko Petroleum Corp. announced it plans to add more than 1,200 drilling locations in the Wattenberg field in northeastern Colorado:

“Anadarko’s announcement today shows once again that Colorado is a leader in the energy sector of our country’s economy. We are thrilled to see the company plan a significant investment in Colorado. This expected growth will create jobs and make more revenues available to local communities. We look forward to supporting Anadarko, its workforce of 1,000 people already here and the thousands of contractors it hires throughout the state.

“We also continue to work proactively to maintain the highest safety and environmental standards for oil and gas companies in Colorado, while also cutting permit times and making it easier and more predictable to develop natural gas and oil here. Anadarko’s future expansion in Colorado, on top of our effort last week to launch a multi-state initiative aimed at developing natural gas-fueled vehicles, is further evidence that Colorado is at the center of energy development in this country.”

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More coverage from Mark Jaffe writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

“This is going to have huge implications for the economy of Colorado,” said Pete Stark, vice president for industry relations at IHS, a Denver-based consulting firm. A reserve that size could generate 150,000 barrels a day and, assuming oil is $80 a barrel, provide more than $4 billion in annual revenues, Stark estimated. The total value of goods and services produced in the state in 2010 was $235.15 billion…

Anadarko’s wells had initial production averages of 800 barrels a day — with the best well producing 1,100 barrels a day. The wells were drilled in the Niobrara formation, which is more than 6,000 feet deep and runs from El Paso County to the Wyoming border…

Anadarko said it also found oil in the neighboring Codell formation…

The Anadarko estimate is just for the 100-square-mile Wattenberg Field, which includes Weld County and small parts of Adams, Broomfield, Boulder and Larimer counties. Anadarko is also doing exploratory drilling in Arapahoe County, and Chesapeake Energy has filed plans to drill in Elbert and Douglas counties. Ultra Petroleum is set to drill exploration wells in El Paso County.

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

Groups like Clean Water Action have been actively campaigning ahead of a new boom in the Niobrara formation, which stretches from Denver to Wyoming along the densely populated Front Range of Colorado. An official for the group on Monday called Anadarko’s announcement a “mixed bag” of economic benefit and potential pollution.

CWA’s biggest concern? Hydrayulic fracturing, or fracking, which injects millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and undisclosed chemicals under high pressure into natural gas and oil wells to break up tight geological formations and free up more oil and gas.

“What does fracking bring to communities where wells are drilled?” Clean Water Action asks on its website. “Fracking brings wells 200 feet away from the backyards and parks where our children play. It brings water and air pollution from wells and open chemical pits, wastewater laced with toxins, and soot from hundreds of construction vehicles. Fracking brings new gas and income to the communities, but at what cost?”[…]

There has been a growing debate over local control versus state authority versus federal oversight of the oil and gas industry. Cory Gardner, the Republican congressman who represents Colorado’s 4th Congressional District, including Weld County, has consistently tried to strip away the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since being elected last year. Anadarko has contributed to Gardner’s election campaigns.

More coverage from the Financial Times (Ed Crooks):

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Chuck Meloy, the company’s senior vice-president for worldwide operations, said the discovery was “located right in the heart of one of our existing core areas”. Anadarko and its predecessor companies have been operating in that part of Colorado for more than 30 years but until now had used only vertical wells. This year, it began using horizontal wells, which bend and extend laterally away from the rig. Coupled with hydraulic fracturing – pumping water, sand and chemicals into the well at high pressure to crack the source rock – horizontal drilling is enabling production at commercially viable rates from oil and gas reserves that were previously uneconomic…

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Mr Meloy said Anadarko expected the field “to quickly become a self-funding, significant cash flow generator.” With US crude prices at about $98 per barrel and gas prices at less than $3.50 per million British thermal units – less than a quarter of the price of oil for the same energy content – liquids production is much more commercially attractive.

More coverage from Cathy Proctor writing for The Denver Business Journal. From the article:

“We’re very excited by what we see in the horizontal activity that we’ve had to date,” said John Christiansen, a spokesman for Anadarko (NYSE: APC), in an interview…

“Everything you could possibly want in a play — this has it. It’s great news for us and for Colorado because it’s going to generate a lot of activity and investment for a number of years,” Christiansen said.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.