Hard lessons from oil industry may help address escalating groundwater crisis

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Washington, November 2 (ANI): Researchers have said that some of the worst battles of the next century may be over groundwater, which may be tackled by taking inspiration from lessons learned the hard way by the oil industry.

Aquifers are being depleted much faster than they are being replenished in many places, wells are drying up, massive lawsuits are already erupting and the problems have barely begun.

Aquifers that took thousands of years to fill are being drained in decades, placing both agricultural and urban uses in peril.

Groundwater that supplies drinking water for half the world's population is now in jeopardy.

A new analysis by researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) outlines the scope of this problem, but also points out that some tools may be available to help address it, in part by borrowing heavily from lessons learned the hard way by the oil industry.

"It's been said that groundwater is the oil of this century," said Todd Jarvis, associate director of the Institute for Water and Watersheds at OSU.

"Part of the issue is it's running out, meaning we're now facing 'peak water' just the way the U.S. encountered 'peak oil' production in the 1970s. But, there are also some techniques developed by the oil industry to help manage this crisis, and we could learn a lot from them," he added.

Jarvis recently presented an outline of some of these concepts, called "unitization," at a professional conference in Kyoto, Japan, and will also explore them in upcoming conference in Stevenson, Washington, and Xi'an, China.

"The unitization concept the oil industry developed is built around people unifying their rights and their goals, and working cooperatively to make a resource last as long as possible and not damaging it," Jarvis said.

"That's similar to what we could do with groundwater, although it takes foresight and cooperation," he added.

According to Jarvis, groundwater users must embrace one concept the oil industry learned years ago that the "race to the pump" serves no one's best interest, whether the concern is depleted resources, rising costs of pumping or damaged aquifers.

One possible way out of the conundrum, experts say, is maximizing the economic value of the water and using it for its highest value purpose.

But even that will take new perspectives and levels of cooperation that have not often been evident in these disputes.

Government mandates may be necessary if some of the "unitization" concepts are to be implemented. (ANI)

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