- Thermoelectric power production requires water for generating electricity with steam-driven turbine generators - commonly powered by coal. The cheapest and easiest method is to withdraw water from a nearby body of surface water, pass it through the plant and return the heated water to the same body of water. In the US in 2000, thermoelectric-power withdrawals accounted for 48 percent of total water use, and 52 percent of fresh surface-water withdrawals (USGS). Thermoelectric water withdrawals have stabilized since the 1980s, even though population has increased.
- The primary problem associated with Thermoelectric power is the production of Thermal pollution. While not as commonly discussed as chemical and pathogen pollution, it can be extremely damaging to the ecosystem. Thermal pollution occurs when warmer water is introduced into an aquatic ecosystem, prior. This occurs after water is processed through a thermoelectric power plant and then returned to the same body of water. The introduction of warmer water into an aquatic ecosystem can prove damaging to the health of the ecosystem. Fish and other organisms adapted to specific temperatures ranges can be killed by this thermal shock. Warmer waters decrease dissolved oxygen by lowering the solubility of oxygen in water. Warmer waters will cause aquatic organisms to increase their respiration rates, as well as increase their susceptibility to disease, parasites, and toxic chemicals. Discharge of heated water, as occurs after the production of thermoelectric power, into shallow water near the shore of a lake may disrupt spawning and kill young fish.
Natural Gas Production
- In the last decade, a natural gas boom has lead to lower prices and increased production. This comes primarily via the process of hydraulic fracture or hydro-fracking. In the process of hydro-fracking, a well is drilled down below the water table and then out. High volumes of water, sand, and chemicals are then injected at a high pressure into the well, this allows for the capture of the gas. This process now accounts for 90% of all new oil and gas wells within the United States.
- Hydraulic Fracture is significant when considering water resources for several reasons. To begin with, the high volume of water used in this process means that it has to be something that is considered when looking at the economic costs of water. Beyond this, the wastewater produced by hydro-fracking is highly contaminated with a variety of chemicals. This wastewater is problematic for several reasons- primarily this water is often not properly disposed of and can run-off into nearby streams or waterways if not properly treated. Beyond this, while being injected into the well, this mixture of water and chemicals has been shown to run-off into the water table contaminating local water wells and watersheds.
Petroleum Extraction and Production
Tar Sand extraction site in Alberta, Canada. In both extraction and transportation, tar sands result in water contamination. Strip mining of the nature necessary to extract these oils results in runoff, that brings chemicals into the water table. In addition, the transportation of tar sands via pipeline frequently results in spills, such as the one seen in Arkansas in April of 2013 (click on photo for more information). These spills cause water contamination as well as contributing to wildlife endangerment.
- Oil refinement is the largest source of water consumption in the United States
- Oil extraction has been linked to water pollution. In addition, there are often problems associated with oil refinement causing water pollution. Primarily, the transportation of oil products via pipelines and boats causes a great deal of problems. When they leak, pipelines frequently result in large oil spills into freshwater oil. Large ships and oil rigs have also shown large oil leaks resulting in wildlife losses and economic decline.