Water from Thin Air
Available technology, such as AWG, can reduce the draw on municipal resources in water-starved locations and provide a cost-effective way for drillers to continue their operations without being a drain on local resources.
- By Keith White
- Nov 13, 2014
There has been much debate about the merits of fracking and whether the benefits of generating our own gas supply while reducing dependency on other countries outweigh the environmental risks that come with the exploratory method of fracturing underground rock wells with hydraulically pressurized liquid. The benefits are endless, but risks such as water contamination and scarcity are well documented.
The fact is there are 35,000 wells being fracked in the United States each year, requiring high volumes of fresh water, which has proven costly and inefficient to transport and retain, especially in certain regions. The amount of water used by hydraulic fracking also can have a significant impact on local water supplies, exacerbated by the drought conditions that many areas around the country are facing.
While water scarcity furthered by fracking is an international issue, the challenge is especially present in the United States. A recent study by World Resources Institute warns of the consequences surrounding water demand for drilling and fracking in areas around shale resources, saying "26% of which are in areas with high and extremely high water stress." The study goes on to state, "energy development and responsible water management must go hand in hand."
Water is the world’s most abundant resource, but it's not always in the areas that it's needed most. Fortunately, there is innovative technology available called atmospheric water generation (AWG) that is able to be implemented commercially on a wide scale and can help to ease the strain that fracking puts on our planet's natural water sources.
Water from Thin Air
It can take anywhere from three to five million gallons of water to frack a well. It's not difficult to see how the industry could benefit from alternative sources of water to support operations.
Atmospheric water generation extracts the water directly from water vapor that exists in the very air we breathe, transforming humidity into an abundant source of clean water at or near the point of use/distribution. The air is chilled to the dew point, and the moisture is condensed and filtered to the point of purity that it could be consumed.
Water can be produced using 100 percent outside air in areas with humidity levels as low as 30 percent. Most systems run on simple electricity and need only modest maintenance consisting of filter changes and general cleaning, resulting in a simple "plug-and-play" water generator that for the most part operates and maintains itself. There are systems available that can produce 400 gallons of water per day, as well as systems in development that produce up to 20,000 gallons of water per day. Utilizing this technology can easily supplement and, in some cases, even replace the original source of water used to frack a well, preserving local water supplies and resources.
The Future of Oil and Gas Exploration
New technologies such as AWG are becoming increasingly relied upon to provide alternative resources for clean water. In fact, according to the Texas Railroad Commission, the use of non-freshwater has become more popular during the past three years, jumping from 3 percent to 21 percent, which represents an increase of more than 300 percent.
This trend is representative of the opportunity identified by Ambient Water for market penetration, as increased use and demand from oil and gas companies is expected to continue. For example, California possesses one of the potentially largest natural gas plays in the Monterey Shale, but the cost of oil shale mining has been considered too expensive to efficiently fit into the gasoline production business model. There are shortage issues, as well, such as in Texas, where hot summers leave farmers and shale-gas developers fighting for whatever water is available, or in Louisiana, where the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer started to run dry.
These conditions are shared in multiple regions around the country, where local communities are feeling the pain of oil and gas developers utilizing the region. But available technology, such as AWG, can reduce the draw on municipal resources in water-starved locations and provide a cost-effective way for drillers to continue their operations without being a drain on local resources.
Keith White is the founder and CEO of Ambient Water, which pioneered atmospheric water generation technology for extracting water from humidity in the air. The company is based in Spokane, Wash.