Report calls for study of fracking water demand
A new report calls for improved collection of and public access to data on how hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas impacts the size of water supplies available to households in Colorado.
Most of the debate over the impacts of fracking on water supplies has focused on how the practice affects water quality. The new report, however, from the conservation group Western Resource Advocates, attempts to raise awareness about what increasing drilling activity, particularly along the Front Range, might mean for water quantity.
Previous attempts at estimating water usage by fracking on a statewide level — which show that it pales in comparison to that of other industries, most notably agriculture — have “obscured the issue,” according to Western Resources’ Laura Belanger, the lead author of the report.
She said a more accurate calculation of the amount of water needed by fracking, which is expected to increase in Colorado over the next several years, would compare its needs with the number of households who could be served by that water.
According to her calculations, fracking in Colorado uses between 22,100 to 39,500 acre-feet acre feet annually, or enough to meet the water needs of 66,400 to 118,400 homes in the state.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, or COGCC, has estimated fracking’s annual water use in the state at 16,100 per year for 2012, with proportional increases in following years.
It estimated fracking used just 0.08 percent of all water used in the state in 2010,
Belanger relied on COGCC’s data, but took issue with those estimates. She said the number of horizontal wells, which reduce the surface impacts of wells but which use more water, is increasing faster than COGCC’s estimates take into account.
To account for this, she used its 2015 estimate of annual water use — 18,700 acre feet — and then included the amount of water needed to drill the wells in the first place, for which she said she relied on an estimate of 0.92 acre feet (300,000 gallons) per well by Chesapeake Energy, though the report also notes that other estimates such as the Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s calculation of 1.84 acre feet (600,000 gallons) per well exist.
The complex and conflicting nature of these calculations is actually part of the report’s point.
It calls for improving collection of water use data and for making that information more publicly accessible. It also recommends more integrated planning that takes into account drilling’s water requirements, particularly in light of this year’s drought, population growth, and projections that water supplies will be increasingly strained in future decades.
The report also highlights the fact that unlike the 90 to 95 percent of residential water that is returned to streams after treatment, that is not the case for water used in fracking, which is mixed with chemicals and pumped into wells to open underground formations and release natural gas.
“Fracking is a substantial new demand which we don’t fully understand and aren’t planning or prepared for,” Belanger said Wednesday. “We’re not opposed to new oil and gas development, but we need to know what the impacts are to do it right.”