Fracking water ‘drop in bucket,’ attorney argues
PARACHUTE — Hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas development uses an insignificant portion of Colorado’s water supply, and the practice hasn’t been shown to contaminate that supply, a water attorney for the industry told the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board this week.
But some Garfield County residents worried that the practice results in removal of water from the water cycle, and took issue with Kent Holsinger’s contention that fracking hasn’t contaminated groundwater.
Holsinger is a former assistant director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and has represented energy companies and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association on water issues.
He said fracking, which involves high-pressure pumping of fluids into wells to crack open formations and foster oil and gas flow, uses only about 20,000 acre feet of water a year, or about a tenth of a percent of the state’s total water supply.
That’s “barely a proverbial drop in the bucket” compared to about 86 percent for agriculture, he said.
Fracking has occurred over many decades without contaminating groundwater, and it is in the industry’s interests to prevent that because if it occurs the oil and gas resource is lost, he said.
“At $5 million a pop for (developing) horizontal wells, I would think the companies are going to probably be pretty careful about that,” Holsinger said.
Rick Roles lives south of Rifle and long has contended that his health has suffered and he’s lost livestock due to chemical exposure from local gas development. He said when residents sue energy companies over toxic water concerns, the companies only accept settlements that include nondisclosure clauses.
“So they state that there’s never been any water contaminated because nobody’s been allowed to talk about it,” he said.
Holsinger said most Colorado water used in fracking doesn’t go back into the water cycle, with some of what comes back to the surface having to be disposed of in injection wells. But he said the water, even if lost, annually produces billions of dollars worth of oil and gas.
“All in all I’d say it’s a very small price to pay,” he said.
Some water is recycled by companies for use in other frack jobs. Stacy Stein of Carbondale said that while she appreciates the recycling efforts, “It really concerns me that a lot of the water used in fracking is removed from future use.
“… I think that we need to do more to be able to not take this resource, inject it into the ground and never see it again for generations and generations and generations,” she said.
Holsinger said water use for fracking has proven to be a boon to farmers and ranchers who in some cases are leasing their water for that purpose, he said.
“Agriculture is making more money in some cases leasing their water rights to oil and gas than raising crops,” Holsinger said.