How much water does fracking consume? It’s a question that sometimes gets lost in the evolving discussion of the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing and how best to manage the process along the Front Range and across Colorado. Usually we hear about the chemicals that are injected into the ground; but those chemicals are a tiny part of the larger solution (known as “fracking fluid”) made mostly of water. This weekend, a Denver Post piece examined efforts by various companies, including oil and gas operators, to recycle the liquid, or “dirty water,” that flows back out of the ground during the fracking process. At the core of this thinking: How much of this precious resource can we afford to devote to fracking—or to anything, for that matter? In the past, we’ve investigated how Coloradans consume water, where it comes from, and how much of it may or may not remain in our waterways over the next few decades. So, is fracking really a threat to our water supply? This past winter, we reported on the process of hydraulic fracturing, and how much water is, in fact, needed to frack the tens of thousands of wells in Colorado. What we found:
Hydraulic fracturing isn’t just about chemicals. In Colorado, the process consumed 13 million gallons of water a day in 2011—enough to supply up to 60,000 families for a year. Sounds like a lot, but, in reality, it’s less than one tenth of one percent of Colorado’s total water usage. The greediest sector? Agriculture, which sucks up 85 percent of the state’s water. Yet oil and gas companies have even begun to outbid Colorado farmers during water surplus auctions. Where else does the water come from? Operators will often purchase from a provider such as the local municipality. But towns have the right to set their water prices higher for oil and gas companies. For example, operators in Erie now pay the town a premium over what other consumers pay for the same water. By 2015, projections say the state’s frack jobs will require daily water use that’ll roughly double what a 1,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant consumes every day.
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