Water Security is National Security

Water resources and how they are managed impact almost all aspects of society and the economy, in particular health, food production and security, domestic water supply and sanitation, energy, industry, and the functioning of ecosystems. Under present climate variability, water stress is already high, particularly in many developing countries, and climate change adds even more urgency for action. Without improved water resources management, the progress towards poverty reduction targets, the Millennium Development Goals, and sustainable development in all its economic, social and environ- mental dimensions, will be jeopardized. UN Water.Org

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Brazil Vows Water Supply Is Under Control as Basins Dry

The state of Sao Paulo is facing its worst drought in eight decades, threatening the water supplies for 20 million people — but you wouldn’t know that by asking Brazil’s elected officials.

Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin, who is seeking re-election in October, has been minimizing the crisis for the region, which includes South America’s largest city. The reaction is a far cry from the response in drought-stricken California, where Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency and residents are being fined for watering their lawns.

Sao Paulo state is already rationing water for more than 2 million people in 18 cities. The capital city’s main reservoir is now at only 12 percent of capacity, according to the water utility Cia. de Saneamento Basico do Estado de Sao Paulo, known as Sabesp. While the utility received a warning at the end of July that it risks running out of drinking water in 100 days, officials vow the situation is under control.

“Sao Paulo is denying this crisis because we are in the middle of the political campaign,” said Joao Simanke, a hydrogeologist consultant who worked for Sabesp for more than two decades. “The crisis is already in place and it is getting worse, but until now it has been possible to mask it.”

Blaming unusual weather in a city traditionally known as “drizzly Sao Paulo,” Alckmin denied last week he was slow to respond to the drop in the city’s main reservoir, which began in May 2013, because of the political cost of rationing.

“The situation in Sao Paulo is serious, but it is under control,” Mauro Arce, water resources secretary for the state, said in a telephone interview.

Reduced Flow

While Brazil’s largest city isn’t rationing water, thousands of residents are already complaining of reduced flow from their taps in the past two months.

In February, Sabesp began offering 30 percent discounts to customers who cut consumption by at least 20 percent of their 12-month average. The utility is spending money on special equipment to pull water known as “dead volume” from the very bottom of the Cantareira reservoir and to get supplies from other reservoirs.

In California, an estimated 82 percent of the state is experiencing extreme drought. Most of its major reservoirs are at less than half of capacity, state records show, as residents face restrictions on car washes and restaurants only serve water to customers who request it.

Spring Rains

Relief may be slow to come before more Sao Paulo residents have to contend with water limits. According to weather forecaster Climatempo, the spring season that starts in September will bring rains at or below historical averages — not enough to refill basins. The drenching El Nino rains that caused floods in southern Brazil won’t travel far enough north to help refill reservoirs in Sao Paulo.

Sao Paulo’s water situation is “scary,” given the historical humid weather condition of the region, said Benedito Braga, president of World Water Council, an international organization that promotes awareness of water issues.

“Sao Paulo’s situation is not devastating such as the California’s situation, because the American state has experienced droughts many times,” he said. “We have never seen anything similar in Sao Paulo, so we are in an uncomfortable situation.”

Sao Paulo should be already adopting more measures in an attempt to reduce water usage, such as a progressive water rate in which consumers pay more for exceeding a certain level of water consumption, said Braga, who was on the board of Brazil’s national water agency from 2001 to 2009.

‘Serious’ Situation

Sao Paulo’s water resources secretary said there’s no need to adopt more measures to reduce demand and pressure on the city’s water reservoirs. The government isn’t minimizing the crisis and it’s reaching out to increase awareness of the issue, Arce said. Irrigation in the upper reaches of rivers is already being limited, he said.

“The situation is serious and we are dealing with it with the seriousness it deserves,” Arce said. Sabesp says its voluntary demand reduction programs are working and some, including Gesner Oliveira, a consultant who served as Sabesp’s president from 2007 to 2010, agree.

“The set of measures adopted were correct to manage the situation of water scarcity,” said Oliveira.

But reductions in demand haven’t held steady. In July, water consumption in Sao Paulo rose as tourists filled the city for the World Cup soccer tournament and fewer people joined the consumption reduction program, Sabesp executives said on an Aug. 19 conference call.

Water Fines?

“The water saving campaign is not enough to avoid a bigger problem and people don’t exactly know what is going on,” said Samuel Barreto, a coordinator with the Nature Conservancy. “The government must better inform the population.”

Sao Paulo’s governor press office didn’t respond to a phone call seeking comment.

Marco Antonio Barros, superintendent of water production of Sabesp, downplayed the possibility the company would fine customers for excessive water use, saying such penalties took a long time to be established in California. Limiting secondary uses of water, for washing cars and other non-drinking consumption, is possible, he said.

According to a July report by Citigroup Inc., if the water flow remains below average for the remainder of the year, the Cantareira reservoir “will dry up by December in spite of the use of dead-storage volume.”

Sabesp expects to be able to supply water until the rainy season ends in March and says the chance of rationing in the capital by the end of the year is zero. Recovery of its reservoirs in the first months of the next season is unlikely “even if it rains a lot,” Sabesp Chief Financial Officer Rui Affonso said on the conference call. “The constancy of the rains is what matters.” More

To contact the reporter on this story: Vanessa Dezem in Sao Paulo at vdezem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net Tina Davis, Randall Hackley

 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Karachi thirsts for a water supply

KARACHI: On the outskirts of the slums of Pakistan’s biggest city, protesters burning tires and throwing stones have what sounds like a simple demand: They want water at least once a week.

In Karachi people go days without getting water from city trucks, sometimes forcing them to use groundwater contaminated with salt. A recent drought has only made the problem worse. And as the city of roughly 18 million people rapidly grows, the water shortages are only expected to get worse.

“During the last three months they haven’t supplied a single drop of water in my neighbourhood,” protester Yasmeen Islam said. “It doesn’t make us happy to come on the roads to protest but we have no choice anymore.”

Karachi gets most of its water from the Indus River — about 550 million gallons per day — and another 100 million gallons from the Hub Dam that is supplied by water from neighbouring Balochistan province. But in recent years, drought has hurt the city’s supply.

Misbah Fareed, a senior official with the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board that runs the city’s water supplies, said that only meets about half the city’s needs — 1.2 billion gallons a day.

Karachi’s water distribution network has exacerbated the problem by forcing much of the city to get its water through tankers instead of directly from pipes. The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board operates 12 water hydrants around the city where tankers fill up and then distribute. Even people in the richest areas of the city get their water through tankers that come a few times a week to fill up underground cisterns.

But criminals have illegally tapped into the city’s water pipes and set up their own distribution points where they siphon off water and sell it.

“I personally know some people previously associated with drug mafias who now switched to the water tanker business,” Fareed said. “Just imagine how lucrative the business is.”

Other areas of Pakistan pump massive amounts of groundwater. But in the coastal city of Karachi, the underground water is too salty to drink. Many people have pumps but they use the water for things such as showering or washing clothes.

The water shortage is exacerbated by Karachi’s massive population. Pakistani military operations and American drone strikes in the northern tribal regions, as well as natural disasters such as flooding and earthquakes, have pushed people toward a city long seen as the economic heart of Pakistan.

The city is trying to increase the amount of water it gets from the Indus River by building another canal — dubbed the K4 project. But even if they were to get political approval from the capital to take more water from the river, it would take a minimum of four years to build.

But analysts say supply isn’t the only problem. Farhan Anwar, who runs an organisation called Sustainable Initiatives in Karachi, said the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board is horribly overstaffed and many of those are political appointees. The cost for water is also very low and the agency doesn’t collect all that it’s due, Anwar said. That’s made it difficult to upgrade the ageing pipes the system does have, meaning contamination and leakages are common.

Meanwhile, Karachi residents have to spend more money or walk further and further to get water. One elderly resident Aisha Saleem said in recent months even the little water they get from the water board is salty.

“Women and kids have to go miles by foot and carry drinking water every day,” she said More

 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

How extensive is California's drought?

A snake-like trickle of water flows underneath Lake Oroville's Enterprise Bridge — just one striking example of how much California's chronic drought is affecting the state's lakes and reservoirs.

Situated at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas in Butte County, Lake Oroville is one of the largest reservoirs in California, second only to Shasta Lake. After enduring three straight years of drought, the lake is currently only filled to 32 percent of its capacity.

In any case, the drought in California is getting serious. Phase 2 of Los Angeles' mandatory water conservation ordinance is now in effect, which means a team of water-use inspectors are tasked with enforcing water restrictions and fining water wasters. If the drought continues through fall and winter, the ordinance will move to Phase 3, which entails even stricter rules and some prohibitions.

To get a better idea of the dire situation in the Golden State, continue below for a photo comparison of water levels taken in 2011 and 2014, looking at Lake Oroville and Folsom Lake, another major California reservoir located in Sacramento County that is now filled at 40 percent of its capacity.

Bidwell Marina, Lake Oroville

Folsam Dam, Folsom Lake

Enterprise Bridge, Lake Oroville

 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Central America braces for drought-linked food crisis

Low rainfall linked to the El Nino weather phenomenon has led to drought in parts of Central America, causing widespread damage to crops, shortages and rising prices of food, and worsening hunger among the region’s poor.

An unusually hot season and extended dry spells have brought drought to areas in eastern and western Guatemala and El Salvador, southern Honduras and northern and central Nicaragua, destroying swathes of bean and maize crops, the region’s staple foods, and putting pressure on subsistence farmers and food prices.

“Extremely poor households across large areas of Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador will experience a rapid deterioration in their food security in early 2015.

“Atypically high levels of humanitarian assistance, possibly the highest since Hurricane Mitch in 1998, will likely be required in order to avoid a food crisis,” said a recent report by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), run by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Thousands of families in the region have become too poor to buy enough food for survival because poor harvests are pushing up prices of staple foods while coffee producers are hiring fewer seasonal coffee pickers and paying lower wages because of a coffee leaf rust or roya epidemic across Central America.

In Nicaragua and Honduras, red bean prices rose by up to 129 percent between January and June 2014, according to FEWS NET.

Other livelihoods in Central America, including fishing and livestock breeding, have also been hard hit by the recent drought and the El Nino weather phenomenon, FEWS NET said.

El Nino, which can last more than a year, significantly raises surface temperatures in the central and eastern areas of the tropical Pacific Ocean, a phenomenon linked to major climate fluctuations around the world.

In response to the drought, the Guatemalan government has said it will begin distributing 4,000 tonnes of food aid to more than 170,000 families affected by the drought from early October, using government and United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) food reserves.

One of the poorest countries in Central America, Guatemala already struggles to feed its population, particularly those impoverished indigenous communities living in rural areas.

Around half Guatemala’s population of 15 million lives in poverty and the country has the world’s fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition, which affects almost half the children under five, according to the WFP.

In neighboring Honduras, the government is distributing food, including rice, beans and flour, and vitamin supplements to 76,000 families, many subsistence farmers, affected by the drought.

First Blogged on http://robinwestenra.blogspot.com/

China Suffers Drought, Water Shortage

This summer has been one of the hottest in decades in Jilin Province, China, and several counties are facing the complete loss of their harvests.

Currently, Changling, Nongan, Gongzhuling and 10 other agricultural counties in Jilin are facing a severe drought. The severity of the drought is comparable to that in 1951.

A villager Ms. Lee from Wanglong village, Huajia Township, Nongan County, Changhun City, told Epoch Times: “The drought is very bad. All the corn leaves have turned yellow. Corns are not fully grown, only their tips are seen with barely any kernels.”

Since July 1 this year, the rainfall in Jilin Province totaled only 4.4 inches, which is about 48 percent less compared to the same period from previous years. This year had the second lowest rainfall in history; the least amount since 1951.

Over 14 million acres of farmland are affected.

Government data indicates the drought has impacted more than 1.3 million acres of farmland in the major agricultural areas of Jilin with no improvements in sight. According to the weather forecast, the average rainfall could be as low as a third of an inch per day.

Ms. Lee, a villager from Wanglong village said: “Even the water level of our own well is slowly dropping. It is only enough for domestic use. Our farmland has not been irrigated for over a month.”

Mr. Sun from Zhen-Chai village, Nongan County said that all their cucumber plants have perished from the drought.

Chinese media has reported two-thirds of the corn stalks have withered in some towns while others have completely perished.

Local governments have not taken any measure to tackle this problem and villagers are on their own. A staff member at Jilin Grain Bureau only briefly told Epoch Times that the situation was “unclear” and then hung up the phone.

Other Provinces Impacted

During the summer, a total of 12 provinces, including Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi Anhui, Hubei, Gangsu, and Xinjiang, have been affected by the drought. Over 14 million acres of farmland are affected.

Henan Province, for example, is witnessing the worst drought in the last 63 year with 740,000 people facing a temporary shortage of drinking water. In Shandong Province the cost of the lost harvest is reaching $630 million.

All these statistics put into question the recently announced food exports to Russia. After Russia announced it would stop importing food from Europe, the United States, and Australia, China immediately started building a warehouse on the Russian boarder to facilitate customs clearance for fruit going into Russia. More

 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Underestimating Oil and Water Challenges in the Northern Great Plains

The Northern Great Plains has become the epicenter of new oil development in the United States. New production techniques have set off an oil boom there reminiscent of the chaotic conditions over a century ago when the prospect of black gold drew developers to Texas.

Water impacts were not remotely a consideration back then. But now, unprecedented levels of drilling in this huge oil basin require the implementation of careful water management practices to protect regional resources.

Drilling takes place throughout the Great Plains’ Williston oil basin, home to the Bakken, Three Forks, and Tyler formations, reaching into the U.S. states of North Dakota, South Dakota,1 and Montana as well as Canada’s provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. With an estimated 7.4 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil in the United States (plus an additional 1.6 billion barrels in Canada), the Williston basin is the largest continuous oil accumulation in the country.

It is also one of the world’s most rapidly and densely developed oil plays with about 8,000 still-active wells drilled between 2006 and 2014. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that five times that number will be needed to access the total technically recoverable oil. But plans to continue producing at this rate will pose severe oil-water risks in the area.

The region’s geology and history convey unique water challenges, quite different from those in other U.S. shale formations. The sheer number of wells needed to produce the Williston creates a huge demand on freshwater for drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and maintenance. Along with oil, produced water (wastewater produced as a byproduct during oil production) is brought to the surface through these wells. Produced water yields are correlated to oil yields, so as the Williston basin’s oil production increases, produced water quantities and the associated contamination risks and disposal needs will accumulate. Further complicating the freshwater quantity demands and wastewater contamination concerns, a mosaic of state, national, and tribal borders provides potential for irregular data reporting, insufficient regulatory oversight, inconsistent rules, and inadequate contamination cleanup.

If the Williston basin is going to help supply America’s oil needs over the long term, the Northern Great Plains’ oil-water challenges must be adequately controlled and safely managed.

Continuous, Complex Geology

The Williston’s shale is relatively easy to navigate. Overlapping formations allow oil companies to extract the oil with great speed and success.

The Bakken, while it has limited amounts of conventionally pooled oil, is almost completely an unconventional shale oil play. It is comprised of three informal layers: the upper, middle, and lower. Directly beneath the Bakken lies the Three Forks formation.2 Three Forks 1, the shallowest of the formation’s four main layers, has been produced in conjunction with the Bakken for many years. Recently, however, oil companies have begun to explore some of the deeper layers, allowing them to produce at multiple depths from the same plot of land, gaining access to more oil without acquiring more land. The Tyler formation, which is much shallower than the Bakken and Three Forks formations, is located farther south, and its unconventional oil potential is just beginning to be explored.

The Bakken formation was first identified in the early 1950s, though production was initially quite slow. That changed with the advent of hydraulic fracturing—the process of injecting a high-pressure slurry of chemicals, water, and propping agents to break apart shale and allow hydrocarbons to flow out of rock formations. Innovations in this technique transformed North Dakota’s oil operations.

Since 2006, oil production has expanded exponentially into the Bakken, Three Forks, and Tyler formations along with other smaller, lesser-known formations in the area (see map). Recently, drilling horizontally to produce oil in the Tyler formation has begun though it is still uncertain if the Tyler formation will be able to transition from a somewhat successful conventional play (accessed by vertical drilling) into a strong continuous play, produced by replicating new techniques used in the Bakken.

Companies aim to further reduce the space between wells to maximize access to oils at different depths from the same acreage. Leases that had only one well before may now have up to eight. As seen in Kodiak Oil & Gas Corp’s, Continental Resources Inc.’s, and other companies’ plans, there could be 14–34 wells per 1,280 acre lease.5 Wells are drilled and fracked more quickly and more cheaply as technology advances allowing companies to expand and increase their water demands rapidly.

The drilling process demands some water, but the hydraulic fracturing process and the water used to clean the well over its lifetime account for most of the water consumed during oil extraction. A single well fracking in the Williston averages 2 million gallons of water. Refracking wells two to three times, which is now common practice in the Williston, demands proportionately more freshwater than one-time fracking seen in other basins. And while some of the water used to clean wells can be reused as the base fluid for new fracking projects, new freshwater is required for each maintenance flush.

Getting to the Water Sources

With so much freshwater required to boost oil production, the question is: Where will the water come from? A range of resources can be found in the Northern Great Plains’ geology, including bedrock aquifers at many depths, glacial aquifers, the Missouri River winding through Montana and North Dakota, and Lake Sakakawea, a reservoir on the Missouri. These water resources vary markedly, and their characteristics must be used to determine how much water and which water the states can afford to permit oil companies to acquire, directly and indirectly.6

Making the situation more complicated, while the area may have ample water supplies, many rural citizens do not have secure access to them. The region currently struggles with fresh groundwater scarcity, low precipitation, minimal water infrastructure making transporting water extremely difficult, and federal restrictions regarding the use of the Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea as surface water sources.

Overdrawn Aquifers

Confined bedrock aquifers of varying water quality underlie the Williston basin, some of which are artesian aquifers that flow to the surface without the need for electrical pumps, a boon in remote locations that must be protected.

The slightly saline Fox Hills–Hell Creek aquifer (noted with diagonal orange lines on the map) is the only groundwater source capable of consistently producing large amounts of freshwater. As a result, it is overdrawn. Although rarely a drinking water source because of its relatively high concentration of total dissolved solids, (2,500 milligrams per liter), it is a major source for industrial, livestock, and residential use.7

Overuse has caused rapid long-term reduction in aquifer pressure by 1 to 2 feet per year. As a result, some of the artesian wells drawing from the Fox Hills–Hell Creek aquifer have stopped flowing and more will dry up in the future. Using this aquifer solely for domestic and livestock purposes and forcing industry to find other sources of water has been discussed, but stronger action may be needed.

Difficult-to-Manage Aquifers

Glacial aquifers, formed as glaciers melted and receded leaving permeable sediment behind, can be found in drainage system patterns throughout North Dakota and Montana. These aquifers, usually less than a few hundred feet deep, can be much more productive than bedrock aquifers, often with lower total dissolved solids concentrations. Their high flow rates mean water spends shorter times within the aquifer dissolving and accumulating salts and minerals. Thus, these aquifers often tend to be the only source of irrigation-quality groundwater in the area. High flow rates, however, lead to difficulty managing the resource, as discharge can happen quickly while recharge rates are variable and uncertain.

Tapping Lakes and Rivers

The most reliable sources of surface water in the area are the Missouri River and its reservoir, Lake Sakakawea. Much of the water currently used for hydraulic fracturing in North Dakota and Montana comes from the Missouri River.

Without depending on water withdrawal from lakes and rivers, it will be impossible to meet the upward trend of oil production without harming the Northern Great Plains’ aquifers and tributary streams. So, as industry demands rise, oil companies are pushing back on the U.S. Corps of Engineers’ (USCOE) 2010 moratorium that prevents lake-water access permits. North Dakota law makes the state water commission responsible for issuing permits for Lake Sakakawea water use, but the USCOE is the only power that can grant permission to access the lake for water diversion. The moratorium was put in place temporarily while the USCOE determined what price to charge for Missouri River water stored behind its dam. Over time, however, the moratorium has morphed into a 100,000 acre foot per year temporary permitting limit, with no storage fee applicable until the USCOE approves a water price.

The oil industry would benefit from permanent access to Lake Sakakawea at little or no cost, but such an arrangement would not be durable. The millions of gallons each well uses over its lifetime would necessitate many new infrastructure investments to transport Lake Sakakawea’s water throughout the basin. These oil-water commitments would also impact local residents’ future higher-priority needs.

Oil companies in eastern Montana do not currently have access to Lake Sakakawea, instead depending on the Missouri River as a surface water resource, even though many of its tributaries are over-appropriated. The Yellowstone River, which cuts through parts of the Williston basin, is also a potential water source for the oil industry; however, some stretches are closed off to new appropriations, and temporal variation in flow causes the river to be over-appropriated at times. While finding cheap and accessible water may be difficult in Montana, the oil industry’s surface water (and groundwater) needs there pale in comparison to the struggles facing North Dakota, where the majority of drilling occurs.

The Salt Problem

All this is particularly problematic because the Northern Great Plains contains large volumes of highly saline water. This water—up to ten times the salinity of ocean water—is housed in the same rocks that trap oil in the Williston basin. When pumped out with the oil, this produced water must be treated as waste.

Once production begins, a well operator begins pumping out the fluid used to frack the well along with highly saline produced water and oil. This continues through the well’s lifetime—with volumes of these three fluids changing dramatically over the lifetime of the well, the amount of fracking fluid recovered at the surface dropping off dramatically in the days following fracking, and the ratio of produced water to oil increasing as the well ages. Produced water from the Bakken formation also contains toxic metals and radioactive substances and can measure up to 300,000 milligrams per liter of total dissolved solids.

Most of the produced water in the Williston is transported to Class II injection wells (see blue dots on map) for disposal. Injecting this water deep underground can prevent ground and surface water contamination, if done properly. Proper disposal is important because spills and contamination in the Williston basin are far more damaging than mishandlings of less saline produced waters from other U.S. basins.

One possibility for contamination in the Northern Great Plains arises during produced water transport—by truck and underground pipeline—to its injection site. With trucks and pipelines covering long distances between the producing well and the Class II injection well, the potential to spill oil and produced water arises. Truck spills may be obvious, but pipeline spills may go unnoticed as any evidence remains underground for some time.

Contamination of water resources can also be caused by spilling oil or produced water through operator error, illegal dumping, well blowouts, and flooding (sometimes caused by ice jams or heavy rains). Produced water spills are a far greater concern than oil spills because they spread much more rapidly and salts disperse quickly through surface or ground water. Spills’ boundaries are rarely well defined and oil and produced water can saturate any permeable soil near the spill, including by migrating beyond state or reservation borders.

Glacial aquifers in particular, with their fast recharge rates, can be quickly contaminated by surface spills, especially from produced water. Successful management of glacial aquifers is vital to protect one of the Williston’s only sources of high quality groundwater.

The Williston basin region has experienced sizeable spills since the oil industry boomed in the mid-2000s. North Dakota’s largest and most damaging saltwater spill occurred in 2006 when a Zenergy pipeline failed, releasing more than 1 million gallons of saltwater into Charbonneau Creek (a Yellowstone River tributary). The pipeline didn’t have a monitoring system to record the pressure drop or the differential between input and output quantity that would have quickly notified the company of the leak. Eight years later, Zenergy is still remediating, and efforts are expected to continue into the future.8

Problems also stem from practices long past. The Northern Great Plains is just now seeing the effects of contamination from oil production that began over fifty years ago. According to a USGS report, the city of Poplar in the Fort Peck Reservation has never been able to pinpoint the precise source(s) of contamination on its territory (beyond linking it to oil field contamination) that has damaged upwards of 37 billion gallons of water in its shallow aquifers. Three thousand residents depend on these aquifers as their sole sources of water. The EPA reached an agreementwith the three oil companies they deemed responsible, and these companies must now monitor Poplar’s public water supply monthly, provide treatment or an alternate water source for any degraded water quality, and cover the city’s $320,000 cost to identify safer water sources and relocate public water infrastructure. It has taken a half-century since initial contamination for stakeholders to experience its consequences because of the slow speed at which contamination travels in the subsurface. This contamination acts as a warning that the negative effects of oil production may take many years to come to light.

Beyond contamination, the high concentrations of salt in Williston produced water routinely builds up on equipment, damaging it and restricting oil flow. To prevent this salt buildup, oil companies use maintenance water—freshwater treated with biocides—to flush wells. Over a well’s thirty-year lifetime, almost 9 million gallonsof additional water may be used to remove the oil-restricting salt buildup.

Oil-production-related water contamination plagues all oil fields but, because of the Williston basin’s high salt content, water spills in eastern Montana and western North Dakota are especially dangerous to the environment and the people dependent on local water for their drinking, domestic, irrigation, and livestock water needs. Comprehensive regulations could help mitigate the risks, but protecting water resources in this area will be an ongoing challenge in the Williston basin.

Reporting Issues and Regulatory Confusion

Data on oil production in the Williston basin are extensive, but underreporting is a growing concern. Some counties do not report any produced water despite highly productive oil wells, and it remains unclear as to whether the Fort Peck Reservation reports its produced water. There are also loopholes in reporting spills and contamination events. Accuracy varies depending on the regulator and extent of regulatory oversight.9

A new online tool helps navigate oilfield-related spills in North Dakota, of which, until now, the public was rarely informed. But companies can report “no” water spilled when the actual amount discharged is unknown. Wells can be listed as confidentialfor up to six months after drilling begins, reporting no spill information to the public except in rare cases. Montana does not even maintain an electronic database, and the state government records spill information only on paper, making spill and contamination research more difficult. This means that rural residents do not have easy access to the history of contamination and the presence of spills in the area in which they live.

 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

“Containing the Resource Crisis”

LONDON – The proclamation of a new Cold War, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, turned out to be alarmist and premature. However, it reflected the anxiety of today’s decision-makers in the face of a crumbling global order.


With emerging economies far from committed to established norms in international relations, many governments and multinational companies are feeling vulnerable about relying on others for vital resources – the European Union’s dependence on Russian gas being a case in point.

Competition for scarce resources is sorely testing our assumptions about global governance and cooperation, at a time when collective leadership is becoming ever more necessary. But even in the absence of overarching global legal frameworks, it is possible to maintain a sense of common security if the terms of resource investments are founded on long-term political understanding and commercial relationships, rather than short-term competition.

The stakes are high. Resource scarcity is closely linked to political risks. Consider, for example, the drought that decimated Russia’s 2010 wheat harvest. In response, Russia imposed export restrictions to shore up its domestic supplies, sending food prices soaring in its main export markets, especially Egypt. This in turn helped spark the political uprisings that spread rapidly across North Africa and the Middle East. Climate change is expected to trigger many more such chains of events.

One test case for such cooperation is the potentially explosive issue of the Nile Delta’s water resources. Britain’s colonial-era treaty has, since 1929, given Egypt a veto over any upstream river project that might affect the country’s water supply

One test case for such cooperation is the potentially explosive issue of the Nile Delta’s water resources. Britain’s colonial-era treaty has, since 1929, given Egypt a veto over any upstream river project that might affect the country’s water supply. Several Nile Basin countries, including Sudan and Ethiopia, have now ratified a new, Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework agreement, which Egypt has yet to sign. Given Egypt’s concerns about potential water shortages arising from Ethiopia’s new upstream hydropower plants, its assent is far from assured.

Indeed, in Egypt’s febrile political atmosphere, its newly elected president, General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, may be tempted to escalate the threat of military action in response to Ethiopia’s hydropower projects. Such a move would send shockwaves through a region already reeling from conflict in South Sudan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon.

To avoid another dangerous political-environmental chain reaction, nudging all sides toward agreement will require achieving mutual recognition of resource concerns. Ethiopia must credibly guarantee the supply of water downstream, for example, by establishing a water-replenishment rate at its dam reservoirs that does not threaten the onward flow of water to Egypt. At the same time, Egypt, while retaining the fundamental right to protect its water supply, must recognize the interests of its upstream neighbors and be ready to negotiate in good faith a new Nile Basin treaty.

Multinational companies and sovereign investors like China, which have financed hydropower projects upstream, will come under increasing pressure to adopt a position. They, too, can play a positive role by considering the cross-border investments that will address critical interdependencies, like Egypt’s wasteful agricultural irrigation practices.

Similar resource-related tensions are surfacing in other parts of the world. Water stress and food security threaten to constrain India’s economic promise, as increasing coal-powered electricity generation diverts water resources away from agriculture. The political risks of investing in Nigeria’s agriculture sector are also rising as a result of the country’s demographic explosion, high inflation, weak rule of law, and insecure land rights, with wider political consequences.

These resource strains are aggravated by foreign investments that seek to meet developed-country consumers’ voracious demand for resources without attention to their impact on sustainability in the host countries. This virtual outsourcing of the industrialized world’s environmental impacts, apart from being hypocritical, is no basis for building a strategy for global environmental sustainability.

Instead, the world needs to invest in sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and green infrastructure. To be sure, the most promising efforts by leading multinationals today must confront entrenched subsidies and vested political interests. Unless the necessary policy frameworks are put in place green investment initiatives will continue to struggle to achieve a meaningful scale. Moreover, developed and developing countries seem unable even to agree on a fair division of environmental responsibilities, even though they have become increasingly interdependent in trade, investment, and the supply of natural resources.

These difficulties should not stop us from trying. The Earth Security Initiative is working with the BMW Foundation to develop global roundtables on resource security over a two-year period, starting in Hangzhou, China, on July 17- 20. These high-level, informal meetings will bring together leaders from politics, business, and civil society in Europe and emerging economies in an effort to bridge just such differences.

We know what needs to be done, why it is important, and who must be involved to secure our planet’s long-term future. We must now address the equally vital question of how this will be achieved.

Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/alejandro-litovsky-addresses-the-increasingly-close-links-between-resource-scarcity-and-political-risk#qFDfi1xP668YyhLg.99