Could Pipelines Solve America’s Water Crisis?


Big oil companies could help alleviate the water scarcity in the western United States by reallocating existing infrastructure to help transport clean water to areas that need it most. Innovations like this highlight how big oil and gas companies, their infrastructure and knowledge will always be relevant, even in a country that continually pushes for decarbonization and renewables. As severe weather events seem to happen more regularly, hitting the same parts of the United States year after year, flooding and drought aren’t the only thing the western United States needs to worry about. Louisiana is currently facing severe water shortages. Groundwater levels in the state are declining faster than in other parts of the country and groundwater aquifers are at an all time high.

It is largely because of decades of intensive use, the lack of regulation of water use by the industrial and agricultural sectors, and little action by legislative bodies to answer the question in the past.

In addition, following the devastating effects of Hurricane Ida, much of Louisiana was without electricity and clean water for weeks. This reflects the poor resilience of the existing utility infrastructure following a severe weather event, a problem Louisiana has faced continuously over the past decade. It also adds to the existing scarcity problem, as more investment is needed to strengthen the western water supply system.

The reason for the current water crisis, in the wake of Ida, is largely due to the destruction of the power lines needed to provide water systems with the electricity needed to pump groundwater and operate the water systems. processing parts. While the state requires all water systems to be fitted with back-up generators, this rule has been largely ignored and those that do exist have failed due to ongoing power cuts after the storm.

Infrastructure failures are due to aging water systems and a lack of maintenance. About 60% of Louisiana’s water supply system is over 50 years old and most are poorly maintained. Louisiana Department of Health studies suggest that 831 water supply systems, providing water to 606 communities, had 4,582 violations of water quality standards.

With local and federal government doing little to address the problem of aging utility infrastructure, not only in Louisiana but across the West and the rest of the United States, an unlikely candidate could provide the resources and infrastructure needed to solve the problem. Oil majors across the United States have decades of experience in transporting fuel safely huge distances to communities across the country. In fact, the United States is home to an incredible 2.3 million kilometers of oil and gas pipelines, most of which begin or end with the oil giants of Texas and Louisiana.

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We have already spoken of reuse disused gas pipelines to transport renewable energies such as hydrogen, as the government and international organizations push to abandon fossil fuels. But now Big Oil could also provide the infrastructure and expertise to solve the water scarcity problem in the United States.

Experts responding to water scarcity in the United States agree that a federal approach to approving and building a major new water line would be long and expensive, it will probably take decades for the water problem to worsen. In addition, as a result of recent action against the Keystone XL pipeline construction project, it could be canceled before it is even completed. Ultimately, drought-prone areas such as Arizona, California and Nevada are at risk of running out of water long before a pipeline can be built if the problem is not addressed.

Steven Bingler and Martin Pedersen made a compelling argument this month, suggesting that in addition to reallocating oil and gas infrastructure to transporting renewable energy, the infrastructure could be used to capture and transport water to areas of the United States that need it most. drinking water sources. They suggest that “using existing infrastructure is the only approach that meets the urgency of the moment”.

They highlight the successful reuse of existing pipelines for new purposes and the experience that oil majors already have in building, deploying and, where appropriate, changing the purpose of their pipeline infrastructure. Therefore, the use of decommissioned oil and gas pipelines, as renewable alternatives become more prevalent, could be the answer to the water scarcity problem in the United States.

Converting pipelines would be infinitely cheaper than building a new mega-pipeline. The existing expertise of oil and gas companies would support reallocation projects and could attract federal funding as sustainable emergency response action. In addition, it would prevent oil and gas pipelines from falling into disuse, thus putting the infrastructure on the back burner.

Oil and gas pipelines are being or could be reallocated for various other energy delivery options. So, could the potential of these huge existing structures win the favor of Big Oil skeptics and help support the green energy movement without completely denying fossil fuels? As the strategies for transporting hydrogen in old gas pipes become more prevalent, alternative uses such as transporting water and other energies could also develop.

By Felicity Bradstock for Oil Octobers

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