From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):
Experts who want to know more about fracking’s impacts on groundwater will soon use Weld County as a site for more extensive monitoring.
During the 2013 Big Thompson Watershed Conference in Greeley on Thursday, Colorado State University engineering professor Kenneth Carlson, who serves as a co-director of the Colorado Energy-Water Consortium, said the consortium will set up about 10 new groundwater-monitoring sites, all in Weld. Those sites will provide additional monitoring to the groundwater testing that will take place because of new state rules, Carlson said.
This year, a new regulation was put in place that requires before-and-after groundwater testing at all drilling sites permitted on or after May 1. While the state-regulated testing will provide pre- and post-drilling water data,
Carlson said the consortium’s new monitoring sites in Weld are aimed at constant, real-time data, which will be available to the public.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves blasting water, sand and chemicals into rock formations, about 7,000 feet into the ground, to free oil and natural gas. Some have expressed concerns that the chemicals used in fracking could seep into groundwater and contaminate it.
The Colorado Energy-Water Consortium is a public-private partnership between CSU and the oil and gas industry formed a couple years ago, and is working to solve issues related to water and the production of oil and gas in Colorado.
The general public’s concern about groundwater contamination caused by fracking chemicals is one of those issues. Carlson said the consortium selected Weld for its new groundwater monitoring sites because of its extensive amount of oil and gas drilling.
Last year, 63 percent of the state’s 2,172 new oil and gas wells were drilled in Weld County.
The all-day Big Thompson Watershed Forum conference, titled “Critical Surface Water Issues — 2013,” featured a number of experts who discussed water use in fracking, as well as agriculture water sharing with cities, wildfire effects on water quality and watershed management, among other issues.
The Big Thompson River Watershed, an area encompassing more than 900 square miles, provides drinking water to numerous cities in northern Colorado, including Greeley, Estes Park, Fort Collins and Loveland, and is used for agricultural, commercial, recreation and wildlife-habitat purposes.
During the conference, Carlson explained that the consortium’s new monitoring sites will be somewhat spread out, but within a part of the county where drilling is taking place. He said he would know more specifics after a meeting next week in Denver, when oil and gas and water experts and officials meet to further discuss the new monitoring program.
Carlson and other experts on hand also discussed the water demands of fracking and horizontal drilling. Extensive water use has been a source of concern as oil and gas companies have gravitated from traditional vertical drilling toward horizontal drilling.
Carlson acknowledged that the roughly 2.8 million gallons of water needed per horizontal drilling well is a “substantial” amount of water. But he added that, if the public feels it’s necessary to pull energy out of the ground, horizontal drilling is a more water-efficient way of doing it — something researchers have discovered through studies conducted in Weld.
All together, fracking and oil shale development account for less than 1 percent of water use in Colorado, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
Additionally, oil and gas and environmental experts on hand agreed that the rules Colorado has put in place regarding fracking and oil and gas development are some of the most comprehensive in the nation, and other states are looking to Colorado as an example in making their own rules.