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The water challenge: preserving a global resource

Barclays and the Columbia Water Center explore how energy companies and public utilities can help alleviate water shortages and improve water quality through new technologies and better practices.

What this report is about

Global water stresses are not only a serious challenge for society and the environment, but can also be viewed as a sustainable investment opportunity. This report is the result of a collaboration between Barclays Research and Columbia University to explore how investment in new technologies and infrastructure can help alleviate the social, environmental and development problems associated with water shortages and increased usage.

While the report focuses on the U.S., the issues discussed can be extended globally across industries - water risk and scarcity is a universal problem.

The U.S. energy industry uses substantial amounts of water in the course of its business operations and we think new technologies and practices present an opportunity to use water resources more efficiently. While water use in the energy industry is small relative to agriculture, usage is increasingly in the oil and gas industry, and underinvestment by public utilities presents infrastructure, environmental, and public health challenges.

In the U.S. oil and gas industry, for example, fracking operators have increased their use of freshwater from 5,600 barrels per oil well in 2008 to more than 128,000 barrels in 2014 and over 300,000 barrels in some areas today. Yet we are confident that oil and gas operators can substantially increase water reuse, learning from countries such as Canada, where regulations mandate water reuse and limit fresh water acquisition for oil sands operations.

Water scarcity could also pose a financial risk to both the utility and the oil and gas sectors, while shareholders and the general public are encouraging corporations to improve their transparency around water usage.

The structure of the report

• In the first part of the report we highlight the extent of the water challenge, how the energy industry contributes to the problem and the different technologies companies can apply to reuse or recycle the wastewater they create in the course of their business.

• The second part is divided into three: the oil and gas sector, power companies, and water utilities. We investigate the issues that are particular to each industry, but also explore the commonalities. We identify opportunities for them to collaborate through shared learning and innovation, and also look at areas where more can be done to protect water resources, and how the sector can collaborate with other industries. Through several case studies, we look at examples of best practices where companies are utilizing new technologies and methodologies to lower water related costs, improve their freshwater footprint, and help the communities where they operate.

To download the full report, please click here.

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