We all know drought drives up food prices, but did you know it can make energy more expensive, too? The lack of water is making fracking for natural gas costlier than usual this summer — and that could be a good thing for people concerned with the environmental price of the practice.

Hydraulic fracturing has pushed gas prices down more than 70 percent over the past four years. Fracking allows the petroleum industry to extract vast quantities of natural gas from shale. The process involves blasting a huge amount of water into the ground. With the drought, companies find they need to haul that water in from farther away.

One alternative is recycling water for fracking, but the industry says that costs 50 to 75 percent more than sending polluted water into deep wells. Of course, there are noneconomic costs to that standard practice. Not only does it mean removing fresh water that might have other uses — like, say, drinking, or keeping plants and animals alive — but pumping the water deep into the earth has also been linked to earthquakes.

The use of water is a major battleground between fracking companies and local communities. In Texas, environmentalists are pushing for water-conservation legislation, and other western states are likely to follow suit. In Pennsylvania, a commission has suspended several companies from pulling water from the Susquehanna River Basin.

Between the higher costs of bringing in fresh water and new, drought-inspired government oversight of water use, companies may need to bite the bullet and accept the price associated with using recycled water. If that means natural gas costs rise, it could be a boon for alternative energy industries, which have been battered by the need to compete with cheap gas.

At the same time, the drought is also raising the cost of ethanol produced from corn and other food crops. There are multiple issues around that sort of ethanol, from the use of petroleum and pesticides in corn production to the repurposing of farmland that could feed people. If its price is rising, that could also have positive results for the development of alternative ethanol sources like agricultural waste and algae.

No one wants to pay more for energy, but drought-driven price increases could offer a push in some valuable directions.

Photo: Pond storing water for fracking in Fort Worth Texas. Image credit: Jeremy Buckingham MLC/Flickr