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Transport of Hydraulic Fracturing Waste from Pennsylvania Wells: A County-Level Analysis of Road Use and Associated Road Repair Costs

Pennsylvania’s rapid unconventional oil and gas development—from a single well in 2004 to more than 6700 wells in 2013—has dramatically increased unconventional oil and gas waste transport by heavy trucks. In an article published in the Journal of Environmental Management, researchers at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the U.S. Geological Survey report that transportation of waste associated with the development of unconventional oil and gas in Pennsylvania increases the cost of road repairs not only in Pennsylvania but in counties in the surrounding states of West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, and New York. Between July 2010 and December 2013, the estimated cost to repair roads damaged by trucks transporting unconventional oil and gas waste ranged from $3 million to $18 million. Although the majority of these costs were concentrated in Pennsylvania (79 percent), Ohio counties absorbed some of them (16 percent). The study includes an interactive graphic for visualization of the data.   

Authors: Lauren A. Patterson and Kelly O. Maloney

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Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Use

Climate and Energy

Water Policy

Environmental Economics

State Policy

Journal Articles

Doubling the Value of Water in the American West

Progress on water reform in the western United States has been slow. Little discussed are opportunities to increase the value of water rights and to improve the ways that they are defined. This policy note in Water Economics and Policy reflects on Unbundling Water Rights: A Blueprint for Development of Robust Water Allocation Systems in the Western United States, a Nicholas Institute report that builds on lessons from Australia’s search for a water rights and management framework that would increase the contribution that water makes to the economy, the environment, and communities.

Author: Mike Young

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Environmental Markets

Water Policy

Western

Journal Articles

A Spatiotemporal Exploration of Water Consumption Changes Resulting from the Coal-to-Gas Transition in Pennsylvania

During the early stages of Pennsylvania’s coal-to-gas transition, extraction and generation of coal and natural gas contributed to a yearly 2.6–8.4% increase in the state’s water consumption. Although some areas experienced no change in water consumption, others experienced large decreases or increases. Consumption variations depended on available natural gas resources and pre-existing power-generating infrastructure. This analysis estimates monthly water consumption associated with fuel extraction and power generation within Pennsylvania watersheds between 2009 and 2012. It also provides the first comprehensive representation of changing water consumption patterns associated with the state’s coal-to-gas transition at the sub-basin level. The analysis shows that water consumption for natural gas energy extraction and production increased throughout the period, while for coal extraction and production it decreased. Water use for natural gas generation increased 67%, particularly in the Philadelphia and Pittsburg areas; water use for hydraulic fracturing increased nine fold in southwest and northeast Pennsylvania. By contrast, water use for coal extraction and production decreased 13%. In some areas, increased water consumption resulting from hydraulic fracturing was offset by decreased water consumption for power generation as plants switched from coal to natural gas. An interactive map and chart highlighting the changes can be accessed at www.nicholasinstitute.duke.edu/hydraulic-fracturing. These findings indicate the importance of considering the implications of energy production and generation choices in the context of both energy extraction and production sectors and of doing so at smaller-than-state-level scale.

Authors: Lauren A. Patterson, Sarah M. Jordaan, and Laura Diaz Anadon

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Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Use

Water Policy

Working Papers

Data Intelligence for 21st Century Water Management

The 2015 Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum, brought together a select group of water experts to explore water and big data to understand how the emergence of large, but dispersed, amounts of data in the water sector can best be utilized to improve the management and delivery of water for a more sustainable future. Understanding what water data we have, how we collect it, and how to standardize and integrate it may well be a prerequisite to taking action to address a wide range of water challenges. The report from the 2015 forum captures ideas and sentiments expressed by the group and concludes with five points: The rise of big data and new measurement technologies can transform the way that water is managed in the coming decades; However, water data must be synthesized more rapidly than government agencies’ current pace of analysis; A national water data policy is needed that standarizes data integration and storage for more effective water management across sectors; Overcoming privacy constraints would help to maximize the potential of water data; and Accurate assessments of water risk require better matched data sources and data analytics at the individual site level.  

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Aspen-Nicholas Institute Water Forum

Water Policy

Reports

Unbundling Water Rights: A Blueprint for Development of Robust Water Allocation Systems in the Western United States

This report lays out a blueprint for transitioning to robust water rights, allocation, and management systems in the western United States—a blueprint ready for pilot testing in Nevada’s Diamond Valley and Humboldt Basin. If implemented, the blueprint’s reforms would convert prior appropriation water rights into systems that keep water withdrawals within sustainable limits, allow rapid adjustment to changing water supply conditions, generate diverse income streams, and improve environmental outcomes. The blueprint’s essential element is unbundling of existing water rights. In law and economics, property rights are often described as a bundle of sticks. When applied to a water right, unbundling involves separating an existing right into its specific, component parts. In an unbundled system, each part is defined and can be managed and traded separately. During the unbundling process, as proposed here, the value of each component is enhanced, and the taking of property rights is avoided. Unbundling brings clarity to water rights and reveals the true value of the water, because willing buyers and sellers are able to trade with one another with dramatically reduced transaction costs. “Liquid markets” emerge. Shares, a primary product of the unbundling, can be used to finance innovation, and opportunities for improving environmental outcomes are increased through the transparent value of water rights shares and allocations. If water managers in Nevada find that an unbundled water rights system is more desirable than the current system, they can use this report’s proposed reforms and schedules to facilitate the transition to it. Although the state engineer and governor’s office may have sufficient perquisites to proceed without the support of new legislation, implementation would be easier if underpinned by legislation.

Author: Michael Young

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Environmental Markets

Climate and Energy

Water Policy

Agriculture

Allocation

Western

Reports

The Depths of Hydraulic Fracturing and Accompanying Water Use across the United States

Unconventional oil and gas extraction using a combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has transformed natural gas and oil production in North America and raised public concern about its intense water use and potential hazards, including drinking-water contamination. Such extraction is thought to pose no safety concerns for drinking water if it occurs many hundreds of meters to kilometers underground, yet no comprehensive analysis of hydraulic fracturing depths existed until publication of a new article in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Based on reports of fracturing depths and water use at 44,000 wells in the United States between 2010 and 2013, the analysis finds the average fracturing depth was 8,300 feet and the average water use was 2,400,000 gallons per well. Many of these wells (6,900 or 16 percent) were fractured less than a mile from the surface; 2,600 wells (6 percent) were fractured above 3,000 feet. Because hydraulic fractures can propagate 2,000 feet upward, the analysis indicates that shallow wells may warrant special safeguards, including a mandatory registry of well locations, full chemical disclosure, and, where horizontal drilling is used, predrilling water testing to a radius 1,000 feet beyond a well’s greatest lateral extent.

Authors: Robert B. Jackson, Ella R. Lowry, Amy Pickle, Mary Kang, Dominic DiGiulio, and Kaiguang Zha

 

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Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Use

Climate and Energy

Water Policy

Energy Sector

Natural Resources

National

States & Regions

Journal Articles

Innovating for a Sustainable and Resilient Water Future: A Report from the 2014 Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum

Water crises are not the outcome of climate change, population growth, new con­taminants, or financial constraints but of the convergence of these challenges combined with the realities of undervalued water, policies that preserve the status quo, and under-financed and degraded water systems. To address the urgent need for infrastructure upgrades and resilience building in U.S. water systems as well as the need for leadership and synergistic action in the space, the Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum in May 2014 brought together water experts with diverse knowledge—from finance and policy to technology and ecosystems. This report captures ideas and sentiments expressed during the forum. The report concludes with five priorities for near-term action: (1) disseminating innovations developed by leading utilities to smaller utilities, (2) strengthening water sector leadership and innovation for climate change resilience, (3) generating awareness about the value of water, (4) facilitating data integration to improve water management, and (5) addressing federal-state-local tensions in water resource management. All these challenges represent nascent opportunities for increasing water sustainability—but they cannot be addressed by a single sector of the water industry, a single layer of government, or a single type of investor. Synergetic approaches are needed to develop truly novel solutions.

 

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Aspen-Nicholas Institute Water Forum

Water Policy

Health and Sanitation

Allocation

Quality

Reports

Why Water Markets Are Not Quick Fixes for Droughts in the Western United States

Because of the peculiar nature of water rights, we should look to market-based transactions as an economically efficient way to reallocate scarce water resources. Nevertheless, because of the need to untangle the hydrologic interconnectedness of water rights and the institutional connectedness of irrigators and delivery institutions in the West, transfers of water will always be expensive and time consuming. Whether municipalities purchase water from farmers and thus bear the transaction costs directly, or the private sector purchases agricultural water, bears the associated risk and transaction costs, and sells it on to municipalities, end users will inevitably pay higher prices for water. Droughts can focus public attention on the value of water and potentially increase willingness-to-pay prices that reflect the transaction costs of tangled western water markets.

Authors: Charles J.P. Podolak and Martin Doyle

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Water Policy

Allocation

Working Papers

Optimizing the Scale of Markets for Water Quality Trading

Allowing polluters to buy, sell or trade water-quality credits could significantly reduce pollution in river basins and estuaries faster and at a lower cost than requiring facilities to meet compliance costs on their own, a new Duke University led study finds. The scale and type of the trading programs, though critical, may matter less than just getting them started. The analysis in the journal Water Resources Research shows that water-quality trading of any kind can significantly lower the costs of achieving Clean Water Act goals.

Author(s): Martin Doyle, Lauren Patterson, Yanyou Chen, Kurt Schnier, and Andrew Yates

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Environmental Markets

Science

Water Policy

Ecosystem Services

Environmental Economics

National

Journal Articles

Conditional Water Rights in the Western United States: Introducing Uncertainty to Prior Appropriation?

In the prior-appropriation water rights regimes that prevail in the arid western United States, claims to annually variable surface water flows are fulfilled on the basis of the order of their establishment. The two-step process used to establish an appropriative water right in all 17 conterminous western states creates a temporary phase, or conditional water right, that has a priority date but no actual water use. This article reviews the legal basis for these conditional water rights and demonstrates the potential uncertainty they introduce to current water users. It then presents a complete census of conditional water rights (amounts, ages, and uses) in Colorado. At the end of 2012, conditional water rights in Colorado (some over 90 years old) were equal to 61% of the perfected water rights. Many of the controversial conditional water rights in Colorado have been associated with unconventional oil production in the northwestern portion of the state; however, conditional water rights are ubiquitous across the state and across many use types. In several basins, their existence can introduce uncertainty to some of the most senior water rights holders. Nevertheless, in most of the state, the effects of conditional water rights are restricted to a relatively junior class of water users. This work quantifies for the first time the result, in one state, of a peculiar aspect of water law common across all western prior-appropriation states.

Author(s): Charles J.P. Podolak and Martin Doyle

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Environmental Markets

Water Policy

Allocation

Western

Journal Articles

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