We Waste How Much Water On Coal?!


Image by ILoveMountains.org via Flickr CC

We usually give coal the stink eye for the ways it harms the earth's surface when it is extracted, and the way it harms the earth's systems when it is burned. But we also need to hone in on the way coal harms our fresh water supplies. Between 800 and 3,000 gallons of water are used to extract, process and dispose each ton of coal. And with 1 billion tons of coal used per year in the US, that equates to as much as 75 trillion gallons of water wasted on dirty energy each year. Circle of Blue has put these stats and many other jaw-dropping figures into a compelling infographic. Check it out after the jump. Check out the Full Sized infographic on Circle of Blue

It takes a lot of water to deal with coal, and while we use up an extraordinary amount to extract, process, and dispose of it, coal companies also waste great amounts by polluting it beyond usability. Water is wrapped tightly up with coal -- with power generation in general -- and these figures remind us that our problems with coal aren't just limited to mountain top removal and the misleading and oxymoronic notion of "clean coal." It also threatens what limited supplies of drinking water we have available to us.

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Circle of Blue has responded to one comment on this post:


How is the math even close to being consistent in the graphic? 800-3000×1 Billion = 800 Billion - 3 Trillion. Where did 55-75 Trillion come from? If you want people to take your graphics as facts, try to:
1. Not use poor grammer and spelling.
2. Not make obvious and seemingly careless arithmetic errors.


Thanks so much for your comment. In response:

Scientists define water use by two basic measurements. One is how much water is "withdrawn" from America's rivers, lakes, and aquifers for domestic, farm, business, and industrial use, most of which is returned to those same sources. The second is how much water is actually "used," i.e "consumed" in products, by livestock, plants and people, or evaporates in industrial processes. In both measurements of withdrawal and consumption coal is at the top of the charts.

According to mining industry data, companies use 800-3000 gallons of water to mine and process and transport one ton of coal.

According to the US Geological Survey, 410 billion gallons of water are withdrawn from rivers, lakes, streams, and aquifer each day in the U.S. About half of that -- 200 billion gallons daily -- is withdrawn for cooling power plants, mostly coal-fired power plants, which burn 1 billion tons of coal annually. Two hundred billion gallons per day X 365 = 73 trillion gallons withdrawn by power plants each year. The USGS estimates that thermal cooling for power plants withdraws 55 trillion to 75 trillion gallons per year, or roughly equivalent to the torrent of water that pours over Niagara Falls in five months.

Read more about how scientists measure water use and water withdrawals in energy production in our Circle of Blue report: A Desperate Clinch http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2010/world/a-desperate-clinch-coal-production-confronts-water-scarcity/

Again, thanks so much for your interest.

Circle of Blue

More on Coal's Connection to Water
US Coal Plants Dump Thousands of Gallons of Waste Into Drinking Water Supplies a Day
Deserted Coal Mines Provide Water For Fish Farms in West Virginia
Aftermath of the TVA Coal Ash Spill: Get Ticketed for Taking Water Samples (Video)

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