The Denver Post
By Bruce Finley
FORT LUPTON — Oil and gas drillers have bought at least 500 million gallons of water this year from cities for use in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," along Colorado's Front Range.
Now they need more.
It's the only way they'll be able to sink thousands of new wells into the Niobrara formation that — if announcements last week by Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. are correct — contains about 1 billion barrels of oil.
Each well drilled requires 1 million to 5 million gallons of water, and more when they are refracked.
Drillers "may need more water than we have," said John McGee, water manager for the city of Loveland, which has leased municipal water.
In Fort Lupton, tanker trucks tap hydrants to fill up. It's the same in Greeley, Frederick, Firestone and other communities amid the expanding oil fields north of Denver.
The trucks haul the water to rigs, where fracking crews mix it with sand and chemicals and pump it thousands of feet underground to release oil and gas.
But as companies propose new deals with utilities, including Aurora Water, they're finding that a resource often scarce for people and agriculture may be limited for fracking too.
State natural resources planners say they're working with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to calculate, within the next week or so, how much water may be available for oil and gas drilling.
For years, state officials have projected shortfalls of 600,000 to 1 million acre-feet of water needed to sustain Colorado's population and agriculture.
Court-enforced compacts oblige Colorado to let some water flow down rivers to other states. Unlike water diverted from mountain rivers for use by cities and farms, much of the water pumped underground for fracking stays there.
And water diverted from mountain rivers on the Western Slope to Front Range cities legally must be used within specified service areas — preventing long-distance hauling to rigs.
"That is a concern," said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservation District, which delivers diverted water widely. District board members are discussing new rules to minimize legal exposure.
"It's up to each municipality to see how much available water they have to sell," said Sean Conway, a Weld County commissioner who helped launch a "Niobrara Working Group" to deal with water and other issues. "We must ensure that we don't jeopardize our agricultural heritage."
Dr. Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action posted the data below last year.