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Editorial comment

I have written about water before and I’m going to again due to continued discussion, and in particular a quotation I recently read from Peter Brabeck, the Chairman of Nestlé who said, ‘we’re going to run out of water long before we run out of oil.’ The shale boom in the US and its ripple effect across the world has resulted in the discovery of oil and gas resources that were far beyond our thought not that long ago. However, water isn’t easy to find, especially not potable water, so what is industry and not just the oil and gas sector doing to find a solution?

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Climate change and the 2°C emissions path is the focus of most global warming/environmental policies, however, I’m inclined to agree with Brabeck who has also said on the topic of water scarcity, ‘today, you cannot have a political discussion anywhere without talking about climate change. Nobody talks about the water situation in this sense. And this water problem is much more urgent.’ We are part of an industry that throughout the whole supply chain uses a phenomenal amount of water and the International Energy Agency has reported that this is only going to increase, and in fact double over the next 25 years. Indeed we are not the only ones who use a lot as agriculture reportedly accounts for 70% of all water use, but even compared to this, industry’s 22% usage level is still a lot. So therefore I ask, what are we doing to help conserve this precious resource?

When it comes to oil and gas, a recent article in the Financial Times (FT) pointed out that various sectors of our industry are trying to make an effort and highlights a few projects in particular. An Australian subsidiary of the BG Group has invested US$ 938.7 million in a water monitoring and management system, the aim of which is to send treated water to town and farm supplies from gasfields and in Qatar, as part of the Pearl GTL project, Shell and Qatar Petroleum are thought to have spent approximately US$ 640 million on a water recovery and treatment system which is meant to completely eliminate the facility’s use of local water supplies. Also, desalination is making a big impact on the water scene and the FT reported that ‘today there are more than 17 200 producing a volume of water equal to just over 21 years of rain in New York.’ But with the figures stated for the two projects above, and desalinated water being far from cheap, is it a wonder that not everyone is willing to make the efforts and make the CAPEX investments required to ensure that we don’t end up outstripping the fresh water supply?

So, I therefore still ask, is enough really being done? One can’t blame people, and I count myself in this number, for treating water as an endless and free natural resource and as the price of raw materials, environmental compliance and consumer goods rise, it’s not surprising to see that more major scale water saving and treating projects aren’t being developed considering the staggering price tags. So maybe, we should think on a smaller scale if we are going to start on the path to water conservation, and I refer once again to the FT, ‘plugging leaks in an existing water supply system…can address water scarcity 50 to 100 times more cost effectively than building an expensive water treatment plant.’