A Spatially-Resolved Inventory Analysis of the Water Consumed by the Coal-to-Gas Transition of Pennsylvania

Authors: Sarah Jordaan, Lauren Patterson, Laura Diaz Anadon

Published: March 2018

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In the Journal of Cleaner Production, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Lauren Patterson and her co-authors look at changes in water consumption related to transitions from coal to natural gas in Pennsylvania from 2009 to 2012. The study provides the first comprehensive representation of changing water consumption patterns associated with the state’s coal-to-gas transition at a watershed level for both extraction of the resources to the generation of electricity with coal and natural gas. Additionally, the authors find that if you look at the state of Pennsylvania as a whole you see an overall increase in annual water consumption. Watersheds that showed an increase in water consumption were those that overlay the Marcellus Shale or those where natural gas powered plants were replacing coal plants. Other basins had large decreases in water consumption due to coal plant retirements. Overall, impacts varied across the state as some areas experienced no change or large decreases in water consumption. This study demonstrates the importance of examining the impacts to water consumption for both energy extraction and power generation to get a better picture of how developments in energy can influence water consumption.