The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is among the cornerstone policies created to increase U.S. energy independence by using biofuels. Although greenhouse gas emissions have played a role in shaping the RFS, water implications are less understood. We demonstrate a spatial, life cycle approach to estimate water consumption of transportation fuel scenarios, including a comparison to current water withdrawals and drought incidence by state. The water consumption and land footprint of six scenarios are compared to the RFS, including shale oil, coal-to-liquids, shale gas-to-liquids, corn ethanol, and cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass. The corn scenario is the most water and land intense option and is weighted toward drought-prone states. Fossil options and cellulosic ethanol require significantly less water and are weighted toward less drought-prone states. Coal-to-liquids is an exception, where water consumption is partially weighted toward drought-prone states. Results suggest that there may be considerable water and land impacts associated with meeting energy security goals through using only biofuels. Ultimately, water and land requirements may constrain energy security goals without careful planning, indicating that there is a need to better balance trade-offs. Our approach provides policymakers with a method to integrate federal policies with regional planning over various temporal and spatial scales.


Jordaan, Sarah M., Laura Diaz Anadon, Erik Mielke, and Daniel P. Schrag. "Regional Water Implications of Reducing Oil Imports with Liquid Transportation Fuel Alternatives in the United States." Environmental Science & Technology 47.21 (September 2013): 11976–11984.