Oil and water may not mix well, but there’s a sense in which neither can exist without the other in an industrial economy based on fossil fuel. The energy sector is a major water-user, mainly for power generation and biofuels but also for fossil fuel production. At the same time, the water supply and treatment sector is a major energy user and is expected to double its energy needs by 2040. Wherever you find oil and gas exploration and production, the water resource in the area is heavily impacted in terms of its demand for oil operations and more importantly the possibility of pollution.
Water is most often the first casualty of a faulty operation or accident in the oil and gas industry. Fortunately, the damage done to the global water supply as a result of pollutants produced by oil and gas companies is relatively contained and largely unmixed with all the other water on earth, unlike the global atmosphere, which is a single giant reservoir that is consistently and thoroughly “stirred” into a homogenous mixture. In the case of air pollution, molecules circulate freely throughout the global atmosphere, which makes the presence of pollutants like CFC, for example, to become ubiquitous in the atmosphere everywhere on earth. Water pollution is quite different because the stores and large reservoirs of streams, lakes, ponds, rivers, and oceans that make up the global water system are not always thoroughly mixed.
Therefore, water pollution while potentially devastating to the ecology can be confined within geographic areas. This makes it a lot easier to manage than air pollution which can quickly be diffused over a very wide area, reaching the remotest parts of the globe. To put this in perspective, freshwater, which we humans depend largely on, makes up only 2.5 percent of the total water on earth. Most of that is locked away as ice in Antarctica and to a lesser degree in Greenland, the north polar ice cap, and mountain glaciers. The rest of the earth’s vast water is groundwater. All the lakes, streams, creeks, rivers, and rainwater account for a paltry .01 percent.
Although collectively, there is more than enough water to meet our present and foreseeable future needs, the challenge is that water is not evenly distributed throughout the world. Human civilization has maintained a geographic pattern that conforms to the distribution of freshwater around the planet. This makes it of absolute importance for the oil companies operating in areas where freshwater is likely to be contaminated to take the utmost care to safeguard the water resources found there. In the Niger Delta, for instance, the freshwater swamp is situated between the lowland rainforest in the north and the mangrove swamp in the south. Special attention should be given to these areas by stakeholders in the oil gas sector. Of course, clean-up should be undertaken to protect other water resources too.