[F&ES 812] / 2018-2019

Energy's Impact on Freshwater Resources

Credits: 3


Energy development depends on freshwater. Water is consumed to mine uranium, tar sands, and coal; to recover oil and natural gas; and to grow biofuel feedstocks. More water is needed to convert these primary energy sources to useable forms of energy, such as electricity, refined fuels, and heat. Water appropriation for energy development alters stream flows and depletes aquifers, thereby exacerbating ecosystem stresses induced by freshwater demands of agriculture and other human needs. Energy development also influences freshwater quality, usually in deleterious ways. Coal-mine drainage, leaky oil and gas wells, hydraulic fracturing, and uranium processing are among the culprits tied to energy development that have been implicated in contamination of surface and subsurface waters. The burden of energy development on freshwater resources is increasing as the world’s economies grow. Changing this trajectory will not be easy, but progress will be made by those scientists and decision makers who understand the potential responses and vulnerabilities of freshwater resources to major forms of energy development. The course is intended to help students gain this understanding through analysis of the academic and professional literature on the linkages between freshwater systems and energy resource extraction, processing, and conversion. Readings focus on natural gas, oil, uranium, coal, bioenergy, and at least one other energy type chosen by student consensus. Water demand is also explored as a function of the energy sector.