Natural Gas Generation Leads to Decrease in Power Sector’s Water Usage
The shift to using more natural gas for U.S. electricity generation has prompted a sharp drop in the U.S. power sector’s cooling water withdrawals, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.
EIA explains that water usage fell by 10.5 percent from 2019 to 2020, which continues the ongoing trend from the last six years, in which water usage has decreased from 14,928 gallons per megawatthour (gal/MWh) in 2015 to 11,857 gal/MWh in 2020.
Over the last four years, natural gas has rapidly increased its share as the go-to fuel for electricity generation, and according to the EIA, the shift accounts for “approximately 80% of the downward trend in water withdrawals by the electric power sector.”
A majority of water usage from these plants is attributed to cooling systems in which cooling water is passed through the steam leaving the turbine to cool and condense the steam. Natural gas generation utilizes more energy-efficient technologies to produce electricity when compared to coal. These efficiencies account for not only lower emissions but also lower water withdrawal intensity than when compared to coal. Natural gas generation had an average water withdrawal intensity of 2,793 gal/MWh in 2020, compared with 21,406 gal/MWh for coal.
Less water starting at the wellhead
Although activists have continued to make exaggerated claims on the natural gas industry’s use of water, this data shows the true impact of natural gas on water usage within energy systems. The trend follows other efforts by the industry to reduce water usage, such as water recycling.
Some companies around the country have almost completely eliminated their freshwater usage. For example, Range Resources uses almost 100 percent of flowback, produced, and containment water for its operations and also recycles other operators’ water in the Appalachian Basin to reduce freshwater usage even more.
Ascent Resources developed internal software which tracks produced water movement and usage in real-time, helping them achieve their goal of reusing 100 percent of the company’s produced water.
Operators in the Permian Basin are also working to recycle more water, with new facilities being built to reduce not only the amount of fresh water consumed in the region, but the number of injection wells needed to store produced water.
From the wellhead to electricity generation, the U.S. natural gas industry continues to reduce water usage across the energy lifecycle ensuring the protection of one of our most valuable resources, and the EIA data demonstrates yet again how natural gas development is key part to a sustainable future.