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Fracking or Drinking Water? That May Become the Choice

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Fracking for oil and natural gas-or having enough water to drink.

That's the possible dilemma facing a number of countries including the United States, according to a new report released by the World Resources Institute last week-though experts disagree on the real implications of the report and what should be done about it.

Forty percent of countries with shale-rich deposits-the types where hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" is used to extract natural gas and oil-face water scarcity in and around the shale deposits, according to the WRI report. 
That's significant because water is a key component in fracking. And many of these countries, like the U.S., are suffering from ongoing severe drought conditions and other causes of dwindling water supplies.

"This is a warning signal for the energy industry and governments around the globe," said Paul Reig, an associate with the water program at WRI and lead author of the report. "We're not taking a pro- or anti- position on fracking, but we're saying that the scarcity of water where fracking's used could cause major problems when it comes to water supplies from agriculture to drinking it."

Dozens of countries, from the United States and Germany to New Zealand, use fracking or are considering its use to develop their shale gas and oil supplies. And not without some benefits: Shale gas could boost the world's recoverable natural gas resources by 47 percent, said the WRI report, as well as cut greenhouse gas emissions, compared with coal.

However, fracking requires around 3 to 6 million gallons of water for drilling per well. The report said that for countries like China, Pakistan, India and Mexico-which have large shale deposits in regions of water scarcity-that amount of water could mean those deposits might have to remain undeveloped.

And more importantly, said the report, if they are developed, the need of water for oil exploration could conflict with farming and daily use. That would spur water conflicts for the 386 million people who live on the land where the shale deposits exist.