Biofuel over-production could spark Great Plains drought

Stepping up the production of maize to fuel the rapidly expanding biofuel industry in the USA could lead to drought and severe erosion in the vast region of plains served by the Ogallala aquifer.

The Ogallala water table is one of the biggest in the world and spans eight states – Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

It is already under pressure, principally from agriculture but also from industry and growing populations.

According to a study published by US-based NGO Environmental Defence, the expanding biofuel sector could tip the balance if not carefully managed.

The organisation accepts that biofuels have a role to play in reducing carbon emissions but argues that their production must be coupled with better protection for vulnerable water and land resources.

“Not all biofuels are created equal,” says the report.

“Depending on how the fuel is produced and used, some biofuels have many more environmental impacts than others. To ensure biofuels live up to their environmental promise, policies must differentiate between types of production and focus incentives on more sustainable options.”

According to the report’s analysis using corn as a feedstock for ethanol production requires three to six gallons of water for every gallon of fuel produced.

It has been published as Congress prepares to rewrite the rules governing agriculture in the 2007 Farm Bill.

It calls on legislators to increase subsidies for environmental action such as setting land aside and for a bar on government support for using previously undeveloped land.

A pdf of the full report, Potential Impacts of Biofuels Expansion on Natural Resources can be found on the Environmental Defence website.

Sam Bond

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