By Mark Jaffe – The Denver Post – February 9, 2013
The move to tap petroleum-rich shale reserves in some of the country’s driest regions, including Colorado, may be setting up a battle between oil and water. The water is needed for hydraulic fracturing, a process that pumps millions of gallons of sand and water into a well to crack the hard shale and release oil and gas.
Nearly half of the 39,294 reported “fracked” wells drilled in the U.S. since 2011 are in regions with high or extreme water stress, according to a report by Ceres, an investor and environmental-advocacy group. In Colorado, Ceres found that 97 percent of the wells are being drilled in highly or extremely highly water-stressed areas, such as the Denver-Julesburg Basin.
In 2013, two-thirds of the 1,839 new wells in Colorado were drilled in Weld County, the heart of the DJ Basin. “Fracking isn’t using a lot of water yet, but it is a new use,” said Gary Wockner, director of the Save the Colorado River Campaign. “If it gets embedded in the economy, other uses won’t be able to compete.”
The water demands for fracking — a process used since the 1940s — have soared with the advent of horizontal wells, which can stretch 2 miles underground. A vertical well in the DJ Basin uses about 350,000 gallons of frack water; a horizontal well uses about 10 times as much, according to industry data.
“Hydraulic fracturing is happening in places that are already facing high competition for water,” said Monika Freyman, senior manager of the Ceres water program. Steps are already being taken in Colorado to address the potential conflict, industry representatives and regulators say.
More than a year ago, the state began requiring operators to identify water volumes used in fracking individual wells, and the amount of recycled water involved, said Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.