Understanding What is at Stake

At a Glance
  • Understanding the relative amounts of water needed for different kinds of mining operations help governments make decisions over the shared use of water infrastructure.
  • The water-intensity of oil and gas operations also depends on the specific method(s) of extraction undertaken.
  • An important first step for mining and oil and gas sector operators is a proper assessment of existing water resources (both availability and renewability) and infrastructure where the project will be.

Water is of critical importance in mining and understanding the relative amounts needed for different kinds of mining help governments understand the potential for shared use infrastructure. The picture below provides a glimpse of the water intensity of key minerals and metals.

Figure 1: Water intensity of key minerals and metals, reprinted from Paulina Szyplinska, CEO 360 Degree Perspective of the Global Mining Water and Wastewater Treatment Market, as cited in Toledano et al. A Framework to Approach Shared Use of Mining-Related Infrastructure, (New York: Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment , 2014), 58

Oil and gas operations can also be water-intensive depending on the methods of extraction. An example of this is when enhanced recovery techniques are used in heavy crude oil extraction and in the extraction of unconventional tar sands and shale gas. The World Bank Group infographic below shows the differences in water use depending on the type of oil and gas extraction:

Figure 2: Water use in different kinds of oil and gas extraction, reprinted from World Bank Group, 2014 “Infographic: Why Does the Energy Sector Need Water”?, August 29, 2014

An important initial step for both the mining and oil and gas sector is a proper assessment of existing water resources and infrastructure where the project will be. In terms of water resources, information is required about the available water sources and their renewability. This information could include the annual projected rainfall and/or recharge capacity of any underground aquifers, the current and projected demands on those water resources, and the impact of the extractive industry companies’ operations on those water resources in relation to their stated water requirements. In terms of an operation’s freshwater dependency, at one end, companies either source all their water from freshwater sources (underground or surface water), or at the other end they source their water from other sources (recycled water, seawater, wastewater etc.).

The table below describes the reasons why an extractive industry project will choose to position itself between these two ends:

Figure 3: Sources of water for extractive companies, reprinted from Toledano et al., A Framework to Approach Shared Use of Mining-Related Infrastructure, (New York: Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, 2014), 56

If a company decides to use its own infrastructure to source water, choosing which water resource to use will be influenced by factors including the volume of water needed, the availability of fresh water resources, local laws, and any corporate-wide policy an extractive industry project or operation may be subject to.

Key Resources

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