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Fracking and fire hydrants: What's going on?

6:47 PM, Jan 12, 2012   |    comments
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The water connection is becoming a familiar site for some people living near expanding oil and gas developments dotting communities around Denver and Northern Colorado and it's perfectly legal.

The image is becoming synonymous with the latest hot topic in hydraulic fracturing that is spurring conversation from kitchen tables to water districts and most recently, state agencies like the Department of Natural Resources - water use.

In hydraulic fracturing, water is used to create a crack in an oil or gas bearing formation and make it grow larger so that oil and gas flow to the surface, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association or COGA, a trade organization that represents oil and gas companies across the country.

Some water conservation districts and environmental groups have expressed concern over the sustained use of water in hydraulic fracturing operations and now, the Department of Natural Resources is doing its own analysis to crunch the numbers and address questions from across the state about the short and long-term impacts on Colorado's water resources. The report is set to be released sometime this month.

Individual water districts are not waiting to start looking at the issue, including the district where residents in the Reunion Subdivision have seen the latest hydrant-hook-up. The South Adams County Water and Sanitation District has already held board meetings and accepted public comment to set its guidelines for when and how much water it will allow oil and gas companies to use.

The water district says at this point is has only issued one construction hydrant permit for water use to Select Energy Services, the company that recently reactivated a fracking operation near the Reunion subdivision.

Under the permit, the company is paying $4.87 per thousand gallons for its water, $1.10 more than the average residential customer. By the end of December, the fracking operation had used 453,700 gallons of water - more than three times the average use of a South Adams Water household for an entire year.

The water district says although it is still working out the details on the limits it will set for leasing water, it does see some potential benefits to leasing water to fracking operations. South Adams County Water and Sanitation District spokesman Jim Jones cites the possibility of lower utility bills for residential customers due to increased profits and less impact on local roads because companies can pump the water direct instead of trucking it in from an outside source.

Right now there are very few reports that outline exactly how and if the continued expansion of fracking operations across the state may affect the state's water supply in the future, but some statistics provide some insight and context for current operations.

COGA says the average oil and gas operation uses between 200,000 gallons of water for a simple vertical well and five million gallons of water for a horizontal well with multiple stages of hydraulic fracturing.

To put that in perspective, COGA says golf courses in Colorado use about 40 million gallons of water a year in irrigation. One more point of comparison comes from the South Adams Water and Sanitation District - its average residential customer uses 150,000 gallons of water a year.

COGA says its statistics estimate the use for all of the state's oil and gas operations to be about 0.13 percent of Colorado's water use or about the same amount ski resorts use to make snow.

The trade agency says its numbers have been checked by some water experts in the state however no true multi-agency non-partisan state report has outlined the numbers, at least until the Department of Natural Resources releases its statistical analysis later this month.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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