Impacts of Shale Development on Water Resources in Xinjiang: Assessment and Management

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    As China develops shale oil and gas reserves to enhance energy security, managing environmental impacts from the substantial water consumption raises concerns. Xinjiang holds over one-third of China's shale resources but experiences severe water stress, making it especially vulnerable to intensive shale development's effects on water resources. This research proposes to quantify water use for shale operations in Xinjiang, evaluate its potential impacts on regional water resources, and provide policy recommendations for sustainable water management of shale extraction in water-scarce regions.
    Recognizing Xinjiang’s strategic importance, the government has established a national shale oil production demonstration area to facilitate large-scale development. However, Xinjiang's arid climate poses challenges with extremely low water yields supporting an extensive agriculture sector and rural population, while also experiencing serious groundwater depletion due to over-abstraction. The anticipated water consumption from shale development will further strain the already scarce water resources, potentially endangering agricultural production, local livelihoods, and the ecological environment. However, studies examining water usage for shale extraction in water-scarce conditions are currently limited, highlighting the need for research to inform the management of water use as shale development progresses.
    This research project aims to: (1) establish a thorough understanding of shale development's water usage across the full well lifecycle, through the collection of primary data from onsite visits and secondary data provided by collaborating operators in Xinjiang; (2) develop a model estimating the water intensity of shale operations and projecting the water demand under different development scenarios; (3) construct a water impact index integrating impacts on water scarcity, groundwater reliance and water competition with other sectors, and apply it to assess the impacts of large-scale shale development in Xinjiang; (4) synthesize findings from water use, impact assessments and stakeholder interviews to inform the development of evidence-based water management policy recommendations for Xinjiang's shale sector.
    Xinjiang’s case of developing shale resources in severe water scarcity is not unique, as 38% of the world’s shale reserves are in arid or water-scarce areas. The overarching goal of this research is to inform planning for sustainable shale extraction in Xinjiang and other similarly water-scarce regions worldwide facing the water challenges of energy development.
    The PI has established collaborations with shale operators from PetroChina and completed an initial field study with preliminary data obtained from the production field in Jimusaer Xinjiang in 2019. This proposed research will build on this initial work.
    StatusNot started
    Effective start/end date1/01/2531/12/27


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