Group assails fracking water use

Billions of gallons of water a year are being lost forever to future use due to hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas development in Colorado and three other arid western states, an advocacy group said Thursday.

The Western Organization of Resource Councils raised the issue in a report called “Gone for Good.” The group is a multistate network of community organizations, including the Western Colorado Congress. The study focused on Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. In a conference call, Wyoming rancher Robert LeResche, a WORC board member, said oil and gas development is “threatening to suck us dry of our limited water resources in the West.”

The group’s concern is focused on hydraulic fracturing, which can require millions of gallons of water per well. That water often ends up being disposed of through injection into waste wells.

The group believes 7 billion gallons or more per year are lost this way in the four states. But it says solid numbers are hard to come by, and state and federal agencies need to look at water quantity issues related to fracking, and not just water quality ones.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission last year estimated that hydraulic fracturing required about 4.5 billion gallons of water in the state in 2010, and said that level could rise to 6 billion gallons by 2015. But that still would be about a tenth of a percent of statewide total use, with agriculture accounting for about 85 percent of use, the report said.

But WCC member Bob Arrington of Battlement Mesa said on Thursday’s conference call that agricultural water finds its way back into the hydrologic system, unlike fracking water disposed of by injection.

“This is water that’s forever gone,” he said.

Not all fracking water and underground water produced in oil and gas development ends up in injection wells. Two years ago, the COGCC estimated that 20 percent of produced water is discharged to surface waters if it meets water-quality standards, and 20 percent is evaporated in lined pits.

Some companies recycle a lot of water, something WORC says should be required. Encana USA last year used an average of about 800,000 gallons of fresh water per day in northwest Colorado, compared to Denver Water’s 209 million gallons a day, Encana spokesman Doug Hock said. But most of that was for drilling.

“For hydraulic fracturing we used produced water that is treated (recycled) in almost all cases,” he said.

Most of its Piceance Basin wells produce more water from underground formations than what is used to drill and fracture them, so it disposes through injection the water it can’t use, he said. Last year it recycled 1.26 billion gallons of production water in the basin.

Ginny Brannon, assistant director for water and energy at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the state is “seeing promising entrepreneurship and new technologies to address the use of water in oil and gas development,” such as cleaning produced water for various applications.

“While there’s still a lot to work through related to the economic and technical issues, we’ll do everything we can to encourage these emerging activities,” she said.


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