Boy drinking water from an outdoor ta

What can society do to encourage more sustainable development when it comes to fresh water?

Every one of us can play a part by being more mindful of the scarcity of fresh water. This is particularly important in water-stressed countries like India, where greater public awareness of the issue – particularly among the young – can make a big difference.

Society must look harder at ways to curb water wastage, especially in cities where much is lost due to poor supply systems. In Bangalore, for example, fresh water is trucked in to ease the city’s water shortage, but about a large amount never reaches the end user due to leaking distribution pipes.

Monitoring the water quality of ponds in Canada
The oil and gas industry needs a reliable supply of water for many activities – from drilling and flooding wells, to refining crude and producing biofuels

Why the need for a global water technology research centre?

Solutions for water challenges have to be tailored to local conditions. But there are important lessons from around the world that we can draw on.

Our water technology research centre in Bangalore addresses this twin need by connecting Shell’s water experts globally. By pooling their experience, we can deploy better responses, faster.

The centre, which houses our most advanced water research laboratories, also works with non-governmental organisations, top universities, as well as global technology firms. Water research crosses many disciplines, so collaboration beyond our own boundaries is essential.

Pearl GTL plant, Qatar
Pearl GTL’s industrial water processing plant in the Qatari desert is able to recycle 280,000 barrels of water a day

Where are you making a difference with technology?

Projects around the world in recent years include an industrial water processing plant at Pearl, the world’s largest gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant, in the Qatari desert. The water plant is the biggest of its kind, recovering, treating and re-using industrial process water mainly generated during the first chemical reaction to turn natural gas into GTL products.

At our refinery on Pulau Bukom, a small island south of Singapore, we use recycled water and converted sea water for steam generation, and we reuse or process water. This means we rely less on water from mainland Singapore, a country with limited supplies.

The building for Shell’s water centre in Bangalore is designed to minimise waste water discharge.

What are some of the interesting collaborative projects the water centre is involved in?

With the University of Oxford in the UK, for example, we are working in an area known as water fingerprinting. This could be applied in future to onshore oil and gas projects where hydraulic fracturing is used to unlock resources from shale or tight rocks deep below the earth’s surface, far beneath fresh water systems. Water fingerprinting uses technology to determine the origin, history and quality of water samples from beneath the surface – their fingerprints.

Shell’s operating principles for producing tight or shale oil and gas focus on safety, environmental safeguards and engagement with nearby communities to address concerns around the development of these resources and help develop local economies. In the future, water fingerprinting could prove to be another tool to provide additional evidence to the communities where we operate that we conduct our operations in a way that aims to protect groundwater.

Watch a film to see how Shell finds and produces tight or shale oil and gas

Elsewhere, we work closely with Wetsus, one of the top water research organisations in the Netherlands, on desalination using ultra-fine porous membranes to separate salt from sea water, a key technology in the treatment of water for industrial and daily use.

The water centre has moved to a new site in Bangalore. How much thought has gone into saving water on the site?

The 52-acre campus has been designed to ensure that not a single drop of water is wasted. Rainwater is harvested to help meet the centre’s needs while all waste water – such as from washrooms – is treated on-site.

The treated water is reused for gardening, cooling and cleaning. Our goal is to eliminate any waste water discharge from the building.

Dr Ger Bergkamp, Executive Director of the International Water Association (IWA)

Dr Ger Bergkamp, Executive Director, International Water Association

Opportunities for positive change

“Many leaders consider water to be a growing risk that could potentially affect businesses, regional stability and even global economic performance.

But we should not see water scarcity only as a problem. It is also an opportunity to invest in responses that are more efficient and environmentally sustainable.

Leading industry actors, like Shell, have a major role to play in helping to shift the mind-set from one focused on risks to an opportunity-driven one. 

For one, Shell can play a key role in raising the standards of water usage in the oil and gas industry. The company already has several successful large-scale water management projects in Qatar and Canada. It can use that experience to be an influential voice in global efforts to save and reuse water. 

A second opportunity lies in commercialising the water solutions that Shell is developing in its laboratories, and turning such capabilities into a serious business venture.

Technologies that turn produced water into a source of freshwater supply, or reuse wastewater from neighbouring cities, are in demand by more than just the energy industry. Farms, cities and industries are looking for such answers as well. 

The world’s water challenges are daunting. But they can also enable positive change.”

The IWA is a non-profit organisation that connects water professionals around the world.

Reed beds in Oman

A natural filter for water

In the Omani desert, reed beds are being used to naturally clean water produced as oil extracted, before it evaporates.

Find out more about Nimr reed beds

More in sustainability

Fresh water

We manage our use of water carefully and invest in new approaches and technologies to use it more efficiently.

Biodiversity

Our projects can affect local natural habitats and communities that depend on them. Read about our work on biodiversity around the world.

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Producing water in the desert

Water is a resource that is hard to come by in Qatar’s desert climate. The Pearl GTL plant produces more water than gas-to-liquids products.