Natural gas fracking well in Louisiana

Keith Schneider at Circle of Blue, wrote a very interesting summary of a Sandia National Laboratory report on water consumption for energy production that has been, shall we say, "held up" within DOE despite 22 rounds of revisions.  The report is a more detailed follow-up of an earlier Sandia Report to Congress -- a document that, based on conversations I had with people involved back then, also took a great deal of cajoling before it could be released.   

Water consumption and pricing to the energy sector is something that I think is a big deal (see a related post from last year).  The power sector uses as much water as the agricultural sector in the United States.  Yet in doing research for an upcoming review of subsidies to the nuclear fuel cycle, I contacted some of the top water policy experts in the US looking for data on how much the utilities paid for their use of cooling water.  With the exception of one or two sites using some municipally-provided water or wastewater for cooling, I could find none. 

Sandia's Report to Congress focused on consumption rates and technical solutions, rather than economics.  I don't think you can get the former without fixing the latter.  If a plant gets its water for free, or nearly so, we shouldn't be surprised that they use so much of it, or that they aren't particularly interested in cutting way back on consumption.  The inputs they have to actually pay for will always trump the free ones for management time and capital investment.

Schneider notes that

...a number of clues are contained in a March 2007 Sandia National Laboratories paper that summarized the Road Map’s contents. The paper, prepared by Hightower and three colleagues—Ron Pate, Chris Cameron, and Wayne Einfeld—makes clear that any number of executives in the coal, nuclear, oil, solar thermal, and biofuels industries, and their allies in Congress, could be unhappy about the report’s conclusions. The Sandia paper essentially asserts that the United States quickly needs to reconsider and realign much of its energy production policy and water management practices in order to avoid dire shortages of water and potential shortfalls in energy. None of the big energy production or large water use sectors will be left untouched, the paper indicates.

If I were an investor in a new water-intensive energy plant, getting real information on water scarcity, regulation, and pricing now would seem a huge plus.  It would be much better than sinking a few billion of capital into the plant then seeing my production costs surge a few years out as a price for water finally takes hold.  

Schneider points to Samuel F. Baldwin, chief technology officer in the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and Nicholas B. Woodward in the DOE Office of Science, as the two primary reviewers, and the main bottlenecks to releasing the work.  Maybe it is time for them to make revision 23 the magic number; or to formally, and in writing, list the core deficits for which they are blocking the release. 

(Thanks for Ron Steenblik of OECD for making me aware of the Schneider article)