May 6, 2014
Host: The Atlantic Council
The Hon. Jon M. Hunstman Jr., Chairman of the Board of Directors, Atlantic Council
The Hon. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), United States Senate
With all that the U.S. and the world has experienced in the past decade – two long lasting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, violence and political instability throughout the Arab World, and the reemergence of Cold War tensions with Russia – it is easy to overlook the energy revolution that is occurring the U.S. Spurred on by new technologies and initiatives, the U.S. is successfully diversifying its energy portfolio and, according to Sen. Murkowski, is on track to import less than 5% of its total energy use by 2025. There is, however, a catch, as a growing percentage of this new energy production comes in the form of natural gas, extracted by hydraulic fracturing (aka. fracking) and requires large amounts of freshwater, an increasingly scarce natural resource. There aren’t many large sources of freshwater; and the ones that do exist are being tapped fast – Las Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix, and other West/Midwest cities are all virtually dependent on the Colorado River. It is for this reason that Jon Hunstman Jr. describes finding a balance between water use, and energy production “the most important issue of our time.” In this nexus – in which energy creation is dependent on water, water transportation is dependent on energy, and our society is dependent on both – a balance must be found.
Recognizing this dire need, Sen. Murkowski is introduced new legislation and, in a new white paper, calls on the federal government to spur on collaboration and innovation, in order to “responsibly minimize the amount of water used for energy, and energy used for water.” Citing data from 2010, the Senator highlighted that, in California, water-related energy consumption accounted for more than 12% of the state’s domestic energy consumption – roughly equivalent to the amount of energy 40 million Americans consume annually. To reduce this heavy load, she urges the government to use its influence and connect with partners throughout academia, industries, and government, both domestically and internationally. Water management and energy production is a top priority in Australia, Israel, and many other places around the world. Maximizing collaboration is the best way to spur on innovation and develop new revolutionary technologies.
Of the obstacles facing new energy and water initiatives, the Senator identified “lack of data” as one of the biggest culprits. It is in this area that the Senator sees the federal government playing its biggest role. By organizing a new subcommittee, either under the Office of Science and Technology Policy or the National Science and Technology Council, the Senator hopes to consolidate and oversee all water-energy related initiatives coming out of federal departments and agencies. Under the new legislation, the subcommittee will not only be able to see the full scope of water-energy initiatives throughout the country but will also require that a budget is submitted to Congress, detailing annual federal expenditures going towards energy-water
In this sense, the government does not need to serve as a watchdog, introducing new policies and regulations in order to spur on action, it only needs to work effectively with its partners. Sen. Murkowski stressed that what she is proposing is a win-win for the country as a whole and should not require further government regulation. The incentive to revolutionize both industries is already there, a both businesses and customers will feel the benefits of efficiently managed resources. Unfortunately, given that this is an election year, she doubts that this legislation will be brought before the current Congress. Nevertheless it is an important first step to tackling an increasingly large problem.