We can’t drink natural gas

June 20, 2013


Drought_-_Water-400x3001-1gq9fn2Sometimes I get this creepy feeling that Colorado has become a field laboratory and we’re all a bunch of lab rats.

The EPA announced this week that they will “probably” maybe release a preliminary report on their Study of Hydraulic Fracturing and Its Potential Impact on Drinking Water Resources in oh, like 2014. The final report won’t be completed until 2016. Las Animas and Huerfano counties in Colorado are included in the study.

EPA study on fracking threat to water will take years

JUNE 18, 2013: CLEVELAND – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is analyzing the threat that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, poses to drinking water, but that study won’t be completed until 2016.

That assessment came Tuesday from Jeanne Briskin, coordinator of hydraulic fracturing research at the EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

She was among the speakers at “Shale Gas: Promises and Challenges,” a two-day conference staged by the National Academy of Engineering, held in Severance Hall, the home of the Cleveland Orchestra.

Case Western Reserve, Cleveland State and Kent State universities sponsored the conference, which attracted 850 people Tuesday.

Briskin said the EPA probably would complete and release a preliminary report in late 2014. It is “complex research,” she said.

In 2010, Congress directed the agency to investigate the threat to groundwater and air from hydraulic fracturing in Ohio and other states.

Briskin outlined what her agency has done so far and the work that still must be completed. It is sampling water in two drilling counties in Pennsylvania plus in Colorado, North Dakota and Texas …

While the EPA slow walks their investigation, back in Colorado we’re in the midst of a drought and living through the impacts.  With summer heating up so is the battle over water rights.

Let’s take a quick look back. In 2009, the Denver Post reported [emphasis added]:

Oil companies have amassed nearly 7.5 million acre-feet of water rights for oil-shale development — enough water for double the population of Colorado, according to a study by Western Resource Advocates.

“Oil companies have cornered the market” in western Colorado, said Karin Sheldon, executive director of the nonprofit, environmental group.

All those “paper” water rights will not be used, but it is difficult to know which ones will be tapped, Sheldon said. The oil-company water rights — some dating to the 1890s —  are senior to those of Front Range water utilities and the Vail and Aspen ski resorts.

Projects for both Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District could be affected, the study says.

ExxonMobil and Shell Exploration & Production — two of the large holders of water rights — both said that estimates of water or oil shale should be lower than current projections and that they will work with other water users.

“ExxonMobil has been a member of the community of Western Slope water users for decades,” company spokesman Patrick McGinn said in a statement. “We continue to be a careful steward of this precious resource and a considerate neighbor in dry years.”

That was then. In 2009, there were about 27,021 active gas wells in Colorado — about 4,000 of those in Garfield County. Now in 2013, there are more than 50,000 active gas wells in the state, which includes more than 10,282 in Garfield County.

Let’s look at what careful stewards and considerate neighbors we have in the oil & gas industry.  Forget about the price of gas. Look what’s happening to the price of water.

Colorado Big Thompson Water Prices Soar [emphasis added]

Driven by drought and demand from oil and gas producers, the price tags on Colorado-Big Thompson water sales are four times higher than they were three years ago as farmers and cities struggle with a shorter supply of the resource.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which operates the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, doesn’t officially track water prices, but spokesman Brian Werner said water sales this year are registering at as much as $17,000 per share, or more than $28,300 per acre foot. Three years ago, prices were about $7,000 an acre foot …

… In addition to high sale prices, Northern Water has seen rental prices of $400 per acre foot this year, said Dennis Miller, Northern Water operations manager. Rental prices still remain below the $650 per acre foot charged in 2003, another drought period.
Water experts say producers’ demand for water for oil and natural-gas drilling has led to higher rental and sale prices.

“Those are the only people that can afford to pay that,” Miller said. “That’s what they’re willing to pay for it so that it doesn’t go to somebody else.”

Tom Cech, director of Metropolitan State University’s One World One Water Institute and former manager of Greeley’s Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, concurs with Miller’s view.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge for many years, because the oil and gas industry is going to be placing demands on local water supplies for quite a while as they continue drilling and fracking,” he said. “So that will keep the price high for rental water.”

The fight over water rights for agriculture vs oil & gas has already begun —

Colorado’s Fracking Woes Show Fight Brewing In Oklahoma, Texas And Other Drought-Ridden Areas

Huffington Post doesn’t always get it right. Early on, Reporter Garance Burke states: “While fracking typically consumes less water than farming or residential uses…”

Whoa. Stop. There’s a big difference. Fracking is 100% consumptive. The water is used up for fracking and fracking only. Water for residential and farming uses is recycled in wastewater treatment plants and in the environment. At the bottom of this post is a fact sheet on how much water is used up by fracking.

Although in the same paragraph Burke adds that fracking: “is increasing competition for the precious resource, driving up the price of water and burdening already depleted aquifers and rivers in certain drought-stricken stretches.”

If the oil & gas industry is buying up all the water, who is selling it to them?

… Along Colorado’s Front Range, fourth-generation farmer Kent Peppler said he is fallowing some of his corn fields this year because he can’t afford to irrigate the land for the full growing season, in part because deep-pocketed energy companies have driven up the price of water.

“There is a new player for water, which is oil and gas,” said Peppler, of Mead, Colo., who also serves as president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “And certainly they are in a position to pay a whole lot more than we are.”

In a normal year, Peppler said he would pay anywhere from $9 to $100 for an acre-foot of water in auctions held by cities with excess supplies. But these days, energy companies are paying some cities $1,200 to $2,900 per acre-foot. The Denver suburb of Aurora made a $9.5 million, five-year deal last summer to provide the oil company Anadarko 2.4 billion gallons of excess treated sewer water …

Besides selling treated wastewater, Colorado towns and cities plan to sell us up the river. Several projects have proposed draining water out of Colorado rivers, and siphoning the water to towns and cities that have been selling off large quantities for fracking.

As of 2012, water-intensive fracking projects include:

  • Windy Gap Firming Project — proposes to drain up to an additional 10 billion gallons of water out of the Upper Colorado River every year and pipe and pump that water to northern Front Range Colorado cities including Loveland, Longmont and Greeley — three cities that have recently started selling water for fracking (Greeley sold over 500 million gallons in 2011).
  • Northern Integrated Supply Project — proposes to drain an additional 13 billion gallons per year out of the Cache la Poudre River northwest of Fort Collins.
  • Seaman Reservoir Project by the City of Greeley on the North Fork of the Cache la Poudre River — proposes to drain several thousand acre feet of water out of the North Fork and the mainstem of the Cache la Poudre.
  • Flaming Gorge Pipeline — could reportedly take a large amount of water (up to 81 billion gallons) out of the Green and Colorado River systems every year and pipe and pump that water to the Front Range.
  • City of Denver has opened up drilling and fracking on its property at Denver International Airport, while Denver is also pushing forward with the Moffat Collection System Project, a proposal to drain water out of the Upper Colorado River and pipe it to Denver.

Garfield County is part of the 15 counties that make up the Colorado River Water Conservation District. A 2009 report Water on the Rocks: Oil Shale Water Rights in Colorado shows (page 19) that the CRWCD owns water rights for only 9 structures, with storage capacity of less than 500,000 acre-feet. The majority of water rights in the Colorado River Basin are owned by the likes of ExxonMobil, OXY, Shell Texaco, and Unocal. What is particularly eye-opening about the report is how it lays out the impacts of future oil shale development on water including:

  • A shift of water use from irrigated agriculture to industrial use.
  • Oil shale development would likely transform communities in western Colorado from agricultural-based to industrial economies.
  • Large-scale oil shale development would affect existing uses established under more junior water rights, either by curtailment and/or through decreased water availability.

These impacts are already affecting water rights with the two-fold increase in oil & gas production statewide in the past four years, even though full-scale oil shale development has not yet begun.

How much water does fracking use up?

In July 2012, Western Resource Advocates released Fracking Our Future, the first report to provide a comprehensive measure of water and community impacts from hydraulic fracturing. The report addresses the questions, “How much water is required for new production, such as through the process of hydraulic fracturing, and where will that water come from?” It provides specific recommendations to guide future development that decision makers can use in developing policies to make sure that water resources are properly managed along with oil and gas development.

WRA Fact Sheet: Fracking Our Future: Measuring Water & Community Impacts from Hydraulic Fracturing

Annual Water Requirements for Fracking in Colorado:

  • 22,100 to 39,500 acre-feet (AF).
  • Enough water for 66,400 to 118,400 homes in Colorado.
  • Could serve 166,000 to 296,100 people for a year.
    • 166,000 is slightly more than the entire population of the City of Ft. Collins, CO (Colorado’s 4th largest city).
    • 296,100 is similar to the entire populations of either Douglas, Boulder, Larimer or Weld counties in Colorado, and is more than the populations of cities like Buffalo, New York or Orlando, Florida.
  • In Weld County, CO, it is estimated that water used annually for new oil and gas well development is equal to one- to two-thirds of total public and domestic water use in the county.
  • Volume is similar to several large new proposed water projects.

Water Use for Fracking is 100% Consumptive

  • Roughly 90-95% of residential water used indoors returns to a wastewater treatment plant and is ultimately released to streams or reused.

Reports on Water Use Per Frack Job Vary Widely:

  • Niobrara Formation (Northern Colorado, Chesapeake Energy): 4 million gallons (12.28 AF)
  • Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) Report: 1 to 5 million gallons (3.07 – 15.34 AF)
  • CWCB, COGCC, DWR(2) Report: 1.6 million gallons (5.01 AF) in 2011
  • In addition to water used for fracking, wells must first be drilled:
    • Chesapeake Energy estimates at 300,000 gallons (0.92 AF)
    • COGA estimates at up to 600,000 gallons (1.84 AF)

Your Water is Driving Away

  • A recent report completed for Douglas County, CO estimates 11,040 loaded truck trips for one well pad (containing six wells) over a 265 day period.
    • 6,000 trips were made to haul fracking water
    • 3,000 trips were for wastewater disposal
  • Bureau of Land Management report estimates 1,160 truck visits are required to develop each well
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One Comment on “We can’t drink natural gas”

  1. Barb Says:

    So so important. Is anyone out there listening? Thanks Peggy.

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