The water needs picture for developing the Niobrara shale is unclear at this time

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Here’s an in-depth report about the current state of oil and gas exploration and production in Larimer and Weld counties, from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

“One thing that’s really concerning me and a lot of people, there are so many pending (oil and gas drilling) permits and approved permits in Weld County and Larimer County, are they reserving future water for fracking purposes, and where are the sources coming from?” said Shane Davis, chairman of the Poudre Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, which held a public forum on the issue in September. “It’s a very serious question that needs to be addressed.”[…]

“In terms of how it affects the state’s water planning, it still is fairly unclear,” said Eric Hecox, section chief of the Water Supply Planning Section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “Although we have a good handle on how much water it takes per well to frack the wells, we have very little information ultimately on how many wells there will be. Making quantitative projections on how much water will be needed is difficult at this time.”[…]

There is great national and international interest in the Niobrara in Colorado, [Tisha Shuler, CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association] said, but the wells that have been drilled so far have produced mixed results partly because of the Niobrara’s complicated geology…

Most of the wells in Weld County are conventional oil wells, which are drilled vertically and require between 250,000 and 1 million gallons of water each per frack job, Shuler said…

Wells tapping the Niobrara shale are horizontal wells. The well bore is drilled vertically thousands of feet beneath the ground until it hits the Niobrara shale, then it angles horizontally into the shale, parallel with the ground. For decades, tapping the Niobrara oil deposit was difficult for drillers to reach because technology that hadn’t advanced enough to make it economically feasible…

Each of those horizontal wells requires somewhere between 1 million and 5 million gallons of water to bore into the Niobrara, according to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission data…

Shuler cautioned, however, that the oil industry’s water consumption figures sound staggering, but other water consumption by agriculture and cities is much greater. Less than 1 percent of the state’s available water is consumed by the energy industry each year, she said…

The city of Greeley sells about 250 million gallons of water to the oil and gas industry each year, earning the city $1 million in sales to the industry so far this year, said Greeley Water and Sewer Director Jon Monson…

Water regulators in Colorado say the overall impact of the oil and gas industry on the state’s water supply is negligible and shouldn’t have any significant impact on water availability in the future. “In the overall scheme of things, from the water standpoint, it’s a very small fraction,” Hecox said of the industry’s water consumption.

Meanwhile, here’s a blog post from Amy Mall running on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Switchboard weblog. She has a list of health experts that are warning about the potential health hazards for those living near natural gas production facilities.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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