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Activity and Water Footprint of Unconventional Energy Production under Hydroclimate Variation in Colorado

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journal contribution
posted on 16.10.2020, 14:33 by Xuewei Du, Huishu Li, Cristian A. Robbins, Kenneth H. Carlson, Tiezheng Tong
Unconventional oil and gas (UOG) production requires intensive freshwater consumption, but whether hydroclimate variation, which alters regional water availability, affects its activity and water footprint is still unknown. In this study, we investigate the temporal and spatial correlations of drought intensity with UOG activity and water consumption in Colorado over a 13-year period. We found that hydroclimate variation has a negligible or weak impact on the well number and water footprint of UOG production, and that monthly UOG water consumption in areas already under drought conditions could sustain up to >110% of municipal water usage at the county scale. By defining a new metric of drought-escaping distance, we show that drought climate could cover areas more than 500 miles from the well sites, preventing UOG producers from acquiring water from areas without water stress. This results in local water withdrawal that intensifies water scarcity and competition. Our study also quantifies the potential of UOG wastewater reuse to reduce regional water stress. Our findings underscore the importance of UOG production in water resource allocation in particular under drought conditions. Our research could provide new insights into understanding the effects of UOG production on regional water sustainability during drought periods in Colorado.