Water is used in producing energy for mining and reclamation of mined lands, onsite processing, transportation, refining, and conversion of fuels to other forms of energy. In the East, South, Midwest, and along the seacoasts, most water problems are related to pollution rather than to water supply. West of about the 100th meridian, however, runoff is generally less than potential diversions, and energy industries must compete with other water users. Water demands for extraction of coal, oil shale, uranium, and oil and gas are modest, although large quantities of water are used in secondary recovery operations for oil. The only significant use of water for energy transportation, aside from in-stream navigation use, is for slurry lines. Substantial quantities of water are required in the retorting and the disposal of spent oil shale. The conversion of coal to synthetic gas or oil or to electric power and the generation of electric power with nuclear energy require large quantities of water, mostly for cooling.
Withdrawals for cooling of thermal-electric plants is by far the largest category of water use in energy industry, totaling about 170 billion gallons (644 million m3) per day in 1970.
Water availability will dictate the location and design of energy-conversion facilities, especially in water deficient areas of the West.