The coal industry is a water guzzler and is squeezing out precious water reserves that could meet the basic needs of more than 1.2 billion people.

This is the finding of a new study commissioned by Greenpeace.  The study elaborates the risk posed by global coal industry by its poaching of water reserves. It said coal-fired power plants and mines account for 7 percent of global water withdrawals.  The researchers warned that the coal sector’s water use will double in the next 20 years.

“In many countries, the coal industry creates one of the largest demands on freshwater resources, the Greenpeace report said.

The study further noted that 22.7 billion cubic meters of water have been consumed by the coal industry in 2013.  The report expressed alarm that 44 percent of coal-fed plants and half of the future plants are to come up in regions where water scarcity is acute, reports Bloomberg.

“The whole life cycle of coal-generated electricity has enormous impacts on freshwater systems,” Greenpeace also added.

China, India and the US have their coal plants located in areas with excessive water withdrawal. Those areas are also noted for the poor replenishment rates. The Greenpeace report criticised China and India for building their new coal capacity in water-stressed areas.

Coal industry’s water usage is dominated by power plants which consume an average 84 percent of the total water withdrawals.

Already many banks, including Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have launched the initiative to scale back support for coal projects so that countries could look beyond fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, a Forbes report highlighted the coal industry’s woes as evidenced lately by coal major Peabody Energy’s plan to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The report said the demise of the coal industry in the US has many contributory reasons. The foremost is the replacement of coal in the power sector by natural gas as the preferred fuel.

The latest report of Energy Information Administration (EIA) also underscored the role natural gas is playing in hastening the displacement of coal, more than what the renewables have done so far.