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Availability and Quality of Water Related to Western Energy1

Hugh H. Hudson
Hugh H. Hudson
Staff hydrologist, U.S. Geological Survey, Lakewood, Colorado 80228.
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January 01, 1981


Much of the nation’s energy resources is contained in seven states of the western United States. Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota contain 40% of the nation’s coal and 90% of its uranium and shale oil. Although rich in energy resources, these states are chronically deficient in water.

Coal mining and subsequent land reclamation require relatively small amounts of water. Plans that require large quantities of water to transport and convert the coal to energy include the operation of coal-slurry pipelines, thermal-electric power generation, and coal gasification.

Production of oil from shale by conventional mining techniques may require about three or four unit volumes of water for each unit volume of shale oil produced. Nearly half of this water would be needed to reestablish vegetation on waste material. In-situ extraction of oil would require substantially less water.

Extracting and processing uranium require relatively small amounts of water. There may be problems of the quality of local groundwater where solution mining is practiced and where uranium ore is removed from water-saturated rocks that are then exposed to oxidation.

Estimates of amounts of water required to support the development of western energy resources are highly variable and depend on the conversion technology, the level of anticipated development, and the quality of the water required by any given use or process. Conservative estimtes exceed 2,000 cu hm/year by the year 2000.

Although water supplies in the amounts anticipated as being needed for energy development are available within the seven states, their availability locally may depend on satisfying environmental objections, modifying legal and institutional arrangements that presently control water distribution and use, and constructing additional reservoirs and distribution systems.

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AAPG Studies in Geology

Energy Resources of the Pacific Region

Michel T. Halbouty
Michel T. Halbouty
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American Association of Petroleum Geologists
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Publication date:
January 01, 1981




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