The cost of oil and gas

December 29, 2017

Colorado, oil and gas drilling

Dairy farm near Kentwood LA, next to a Goodrich Petroleum frack site. [Photo credit: Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog]

On Christmas Day, the Post Independent published a Letter to the Editor by Keira Bresnahan, chairperson of the Piceance Energy Action Council/Colorado Rural Energy Action Committee. Bresnahan criticized the 2500’ setback ballot initiative as anti-agriculture.

My response was published today:

The cost of oil

In response to Keira Bresnahan’s anti-setbacks rant, here are the facts about the impact of oil and gas drilling on agricultural land. Over 58 percent of U.S. agricultural operations and 74 percent of U.S. farms, conventional and organic, operate in shale basins with active plays.

Unfortunately the USDA National Organic Program Standards do not require testing for oil and gas chemicals in water being used for organic production. The organic standard is satisfied as long as state, water and food safety agencies deem the water safe, and they do not test for oil and gas chemicals.

In Colorado, two spills occur on average per day, and 15 percent result in water contamination. Rural flowback lines are unregulated. Fracking wastewater contains massive amounts of brine (salts), toxic metals and radioactivity. Research has shown that the mixture of chemicals from fracking fluid and produced wastewater can lead to the accumulation of toxic chemicals in soil, which may be absorbed by plants. And contaminated water may be consumed by farm animals. Read The Real Cost of Fracking [Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald: Beacon Press].

Competition for water between oil and gas production and agriculture is fierce. Drilling a single well can require 3 million to 6 million gallons of water, and thousands of wells are fracked each year. A 2015 Duke University study found that energy companies used nearly 250 billion gallons of water for fracking wells in the U.S. between 2005 and 2014.

Water use for fracking is consumptive, meaning the water cannot be reused for any other purpose. Oil and gas drilling operations remove water that otherwise would be available for municipal water supplies and agriculture.

Drought and water scarcity are putting more stress on farmers operating in already depleted watersheds. And the impacts of climate change will continue to cause water shortages for the foreseeable future.

Our farms, headwaters and public lands need to be protected if we are to maintain food independence and security. Depleting our watersheds and producing potentially contaminated food does not provide us with food independence or food security.


Due to word count limitations I was not able to include this additional information:

A 2500’ setback does not affect the ability of farmers and ranchers to negotiate surface rights or mineral rights with oil & gas companies. They would still be free to negotiate well pad siting on their properties. If they negotiate an agreement that puts the well pad within the setback limitation and the surface owner agrees, the COGCC will approve the permit application. If the surface owner doesn’t agree, the company can still apply for a variance with the COGCC.

For example in Battlement Mesa, Ursa applied to put a well pad within 500 feet of seven mobile homes. Under state rules, Ursa will have to seek a variance from the COGCC, unless it can get waivers from all the owners of those buildings. As of mid-November, Ursa had obtained six of the seven waivers it needs, but a seventh person had rescinded the waiver after signing it. Yet Ursa can still apply for a variance with the COGCC.

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