From The New York Times (Jack Healey):
A single such well can require five million gallons of water, and energy companies are flocking to water auctions, farm ponds, irrigation ditches and municipal fire hydrants to get what they need.
That thirst is helping to drive an explosion of oil production here, but it is also complicating the long and emotional struggle over who drinks and who does not in the arid and fast-growing West. Farmers and environmental activists say they are worried that deep-pocketed energy companies will have purchase on increasingly scarce water supplies as they drill deep new wells that use the technique of hydraulic fracturing.
And this summer’s record-breaking drought, which dried up wells and ruined crops, has only amplified those concerns.
“It’s not a level playing field,” said Peter V. Anderson, who grows corn and alfalfa on the parched plains of eastern Colorado. “I don’t think in reality that the farmer can compete with the oil and gas companies for that water. Their return is a hell of a lot better than ours.”
But industry officials say that critics are exaggerating the effect on water supplies. [ed. emphasis mine]
Energy producers do not — and cannot — simply snap up the rights to streams and wells at the expense of farmers or homeowners. To fill their storage tanks, they lease surplus water from cities or buy treated wastewater that would otherwise be dumped back into rivers. In some cases, they buy water rights directly from farmers or other users — a process that in Colorado requires court approval.
“This is an important use of our water — to produce energy, which is the foundation of all we do,” said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “Think about the big users of water — agriculture, industrial development. All these things require energy.”