Like floods, droughts may affect many aspects of the energy and power industry. Limited water availability can shut down thermoelectric power plants by limiting the amount of water they can withdraw from their cooling sources. Similarly, limited water can halt or delay oil and gas operations, especially water-intensive unconventional operations or operations in arid regions. For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection regulates the pass-by flows of rivers with water withdrawals. When stream flow drops below a critical threshold, operators must stop withdrawing water from those sources until stream flow increases above the established level. When they do not have water stored on site, operations will stop until they can resume water withdrawals.
In the western states, where operations depend more commonly on groundwater, droughts affect water sourcing in different ways. As long-term drought conditions continue and more and more municipalities, farmers, and oil and gas operations withdraw water from subsurface aquifers, the rate at which the level of the aquifer drops may increase. This requires more energy to pump water to the surface, and therefore becomes more expensive. Drought conditions and their added expenses encourage oil and gas operators to seek innovative fluid management solutions, including water recycling and non-water-based drilling fluids.
Images: “Drought Land” by Galyna Andrushko via Shutterstock