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Research Report

Fueling America and the Energy Water Nexus:: How and Why it Impacts the Nexus and What Next

Richard L. Lawson
Blythe J. Lyons
John R. Lyman
Mihaela Carstei
Copyright Date: May. 1, 2012
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 61
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. [iv]-[v])
    Frederick Kempe

    Many factors are driving increasing public and government leaders’ interest in energy and water issues throughout the world. The global population continues to grow, and with it demand for freshwater supplies for agriculture, industry, energy and recreation. Into the future, the majority of this growth will be in emerging and developing countries that are already experiencing water and energy security challenges today. Insecure energy supplies are bumping up against reductions in water supplies that are also becoming more costly. Heightened awareness of changes in climate patterns further drives the current debate.

    The United States faces energy and water challenges as...

  2. (pp. 4-5)

    A substantive dialogue has emerged in the United States under the rubric of “the energy and water nexus,” representing the deepening understanding of the circular relationship between water and energy. Both are essential building blocks of US economic and physical security, and interface with efforts to improve health and prosperity. On a national level, the criticality of this relationship to economic and public prosperity is often ignored, as energy and water impacts are largely specific to a watershed or a local surface water source. Simply put, energy security and the availability of water are both critical elements of US national...

  3. (pp. 6-9)

    Over the next two decades, the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) predicts that the United States will see modest economic growth, increased energy efficiency², growing domestic energy production (of oil and gas primarily), and continued adoption of non-petroleum liquids (for transportation purposes). Due to slower growth than usual after a recession, gross domestic product (GDP) average growth is forecast to be 2.6 percent between 2010 and 2035. Transportation related energy demand and electricity demand are forecast to grow 0.2 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively, during that time period.

    Even with a modest GDP growth forecast through 2035, primary energy consumption...

  4. (pp. 10-30)

    Figure 1 provides a comparative picture of the water consumption of primary and transportation fuels, excluding unconventional gas. This comparison, based on gallons per million British Thermal Units (MMBTU), shows that for the transportation fuels:

    Water for soy and corn irrigation and ethanol processing is far greater than for all other fuels;

    Water consumption to turn coals into transportation fuels is comparable to that for oil from tar sands;

    Water for petroleum extraction is fairly low but quite high for refining;

    EOR requires wide ranges and potentially very large quantities of water;

    And while water for in situ oil production...

  5. (pp. 31-37)

    Just when national leadership is most needed, the 112th Congress faces seemingly intractable roadblocks. Even without the political obstacles posed by the upcoming 2012 presidential election, congressional action is hampered by fractured committee jurisdiction over the myriad federal agencies that both write the rules and control sizable tracts of land that contain fuel production areas. Committees are scaling back funding in an effort to reduce the federal deficit, even though there is a significant need to fund public water infrastructure improvements and to collect comprehensive data to support a reassessment of policies and regulations. There is a lack of political...

  6. (pp. 38-40)

    The Council recommends pursuing an agenda that will build a consensus on how the United States can address the energy and water nexus. Dealing with the nexus should be seen as an opportunity to simultaneously advance the United States’ national economic and environmental health. Pursuing these core recommendations will improve US energy and water policies:

    Publish the Energy-Water Science and Technology Research Roadmap that was prepared by Sandia National Laboratories at the direction of Congress in 2005 and update and expand the roadmap as necessary;

    Create a Presidentially appointed task force to address and most importantly, reduce, the federal, state...

  7. (pp. 41-42)

    The complex interrelationship between energy and water is leading to a growing dialogue among US government, industry, and nongovernmental organization leaders. However, much greater public and governmental focus on addressing the energy and water nexus is needed if major crises are to be avoided, or at least diminished. The United States is fortunate in that the potential for crises tend to be regional rather than national. But this is also a curse, as it diminishes the national political will to address topics that can undermine national prosperity. The challenge is to channel the public’s demand for clean, sustainable, and affordable...