As Water Use in Gas Extraction Grows,Use in Coal Extraction Declines: Harvard Study

A Spatiotemporal Exploration of Water Consumption Changes Resulting from the Coal-to-Gas Transition in Pennsylvania
Belfer Center, Kennedy School, Harvard Univ. / by Lauren A. Patterson, Sarah Jordaan and Laura Diaz Anadon

A new study co-authored by researchers at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, and the University of Calgary provides the first comprehensive representation of changing water consumption patterns associated with fuel extraction and power generation…

The study concludes that extraction of coal and natural gas and power generation from both fuels contributed to a yearly 2.6 to 8.4 percent increase in water consumption in Pennsylvania during the early stages of the coal-to-gas transition. However, impacts varied across the state as some areas experienced no change or large decreases in water consumption, according to a new working paper…

It finds that water consumption varied widely depending on the presence of natural gas resources and power generating infrastructure. During the four-year period, water consumption increased 67 percent for natural gas generation, particularly around the metropolitan region of Philadelphia and Pittsburg, while water used for hydraulic fracturing increased over time in southwest and northeast Pennsylvania.

Water consumed by coal power, on the other hand, decreased 13 percent in the four years. And in some areas of the state, increased water use from hydraulic fracturing was offset by the decrease in water consumption for power generation as plants switched from coal to natural gas….


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