Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Stunning Facts: Power Plants Use 53% Of Water Withdrawn In US and Gas Production Less Than 1% In PA

As droughts grip parts of the USA, and temperatures rise, water becomes more precious.  Conserving water is becoming the top priority in some parts of the nation, and communities across our land pay  growing attention to how water is used.

The U.S. Geologic Survey found that power plants use 53% of water withdrawn for human use from freshwater, surface sources. at page 5. No other use of water comes close to the water needed to operate nuclear, coal, gas, solar thermal, and geothermal plants.

But not all power sources have equal thirsts.  For example, wind and solar PV require none, a major operating and economic advantage for areas where water supply is constrained.

Compared to power plants, gas production accounts for much less of the water withdrawn daily in Pennsylvania.  Water withdrawals amount to less than 1% of the water withdrawn and rank 10th out of the 10 major uses in the Commonwealth.

Having said that, it is also important to state that water withdrawn for gas production should be regulated.  In Pennsylvania, it is. 

A driller must file a water plan with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection at the time an application to drill is made.  The plan must specify where from where will the water be withdrawn and how much.  It is approved only if the amount of the withdrawal would damage the stream in times of drought.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission also provides another layer of regulation in its area.  It orders the suspension of water withdrawals when stream flows drop below certain levels.  It has issued such orders currently to gas drillers and other water users.


  1. I appreciate your insightful views on industry and environmental issues. In this case, you only present half the story. Don't you think that the used/waste water quality and disposal method is a more pertinent topic? I'm not an expert on power plants, but typically don't they just discharge hot water back into the river? Whereas frac flowback water must be permitted for disposal/reinjection if not recycled?

    1. You make fair points and the post was short and not exhaustive. The amount of water withdrawn itself is important, especially during droughts. But what happens to the water once withdrawn is also important. Significant quantities of water evaporate at power plants and are not returned to the withdrawal point. Water evaporating in turn is different from water buried forever. Thermal pollution from hot water returning from power plants can also cause major damage to aquatic systems. Lots of factors to consider for sure.

  2. Putting aside the quantites of water used for the extraction/processing of natural gas and coal, does the amount of water a natural gas fired power plant uses differ significantly from the amount used by a coal fired plant?

    1. See the July 5th posting (Gulpers & Sippers) about how much different types of generation use. Bottom line is gas plants use much less water than nukes or coal plants.