From The Greeley Tribune (David Persons):
Colorado’s snowy peaks produce an abundance of water that is among the most managed, scrutinized and carefully used water in the United States. No drop goes unaccounted for. That’s good news for the state’s agricultural industry, regional oil and gas companies, industrial users, municipalities and even out-of-state entities with water rights. Everyone can count on Colorado for its fair share of water.
But a day of reckoning is coming — and it’s not too far off, said members of a panel of water and energy officials who took part recently in an energy summit at The Ranch in Loveland sponsored by the Northern Colorado Business Report. And, that’s an issue that needs to be dealt with now. “Water is a big deal right now,” said Jerd Smith, NCBR editor. Smith moderated the panel during the “Fueling the Future” energy summit on July 16. “It’s a big deal because Colorado is a headwater state,” Smith added. “We have eight river basins. That’s a lot of water … but that water doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to various states, farmers, oil and gas companies and other various entities.”
Smith said ownership is going to cause some serious water problems very shortly as will other related issues. She pointed out the state’s population, which will jump from 5 million to 7 million in the next 15 years or so, will create a water shortage in Colorado by 2030. Experts say the shortage will be about 400,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot of water can supply three homes with water for a year.
Smith said the state’s oil and gas operations and their need for water will increase, too, and that will impact the price of water, which has already increased dramatically in the past four years. That, in turn, will induce farmers to sell their water rights and shift to dryland farming — a very unreliable way to grow crops given Colorado’s unpredictable weather and propensity for droughts.
Tom Cech, the director for the One World One Water Center at Metro State University in Denver, believes 133,000 to 226,000 acres of irrigated farmland will dry up by 2030. That’s problematic, he says, for the state and the country.
Weld County is the eighth most productive agricultural county in the U.S. “It’s a lush, garden area,” Cech said. But, he pointed out, without fresh water for agriculture, the amount of crops (corn, alfalfa, sugar beets, cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, etc.) will drop significantly at a time when demand will be growing.
So, what can be done to conserve water and/or lessen the upcoming shortage?
Two panelists, David Stewart and Doug White, believe recycling and reusing water produced by oil and gas drilling operations, could lighten the load on the amount of fresh water needed for hydraulic fracturing — the technology used today to drill into deep, difficult formations. Recycling and reuse will, in turn, will leave more fresh water for use, they say. “The amount of water used in Colorado for fracking and energy production is about 0.14 percent of the water available (less than one-tenth of 1 percent),” said Stewart, the president of Stewart Environmental Consultants. “That’s not much. But, it’s important. “We get about 20 percent of the water back with each frack and it’s difficult to treat (for reuse). But, it’s significant when you’re in a drought.”
Stewart said more oil and gas companies need to consider recycling produced water so that the process becomes the “standard operating procedure of the future.”
White, the vice president of High Sierra Water Services, said his company treats produced water primarily for Noble Energy. He said his company has about seven treatment facilities that service 10 wells in Weld County. White said his company is recycling about 33 million barrels of water each year. He said some water is recycled for reuse in drilling operations and some is cleaned to the point that it can be put back in the water system. White praised Noble Energy for being “a big, big driver for recycled water.” He said other companies need to follow Noble’s lead. “(Oil companies) need to understand that 50 cents a barrel for fresh water isn’t going to last long,” White said.