As lawmakers pursue fracking bills, report looks at water effects
A new report on hydraulic fracturing has taken stock of the controversial procedure's effect on water supplies in Colorado, echoing concerns of California lawmakers as they seek to regulate "fracking" here.
Western Resource Advocates, an environmental group, analyzed government and industry data to produce what it calls the first study of its kind to quantify how much water is used in the process, which involves injecting chemical-laced water and sand deep into the ground to tap oil and natural gas deposits.
According to the report, oil and gas companies in Colorado use as much as 39,500 acre-feet of water annually in fracking operations -- enough to meet the yearly residential needs of up to 296,100 people, a population the size of Cincinnati or Orlando, Fla. The volume is troublesome for arid Western states, especially because the waste water cannot be treated and returned to drinking water supplies, the report said.
“It’s clear that we need to take a step back and make sure we aren’t over-allocating our most important natural resource one frack job at a time,” said Laura Belanger, the lead author of the report, in a statement. “While we need natural gas to transition to a cleaner energy future, we must have water to survive.”
The report urged states to collect more data on water usage, which it said should play a key role in the planning and permitting of oil and gas development.
A bill by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), AB 591, would require oil companies to disclose to California regulators what chemicals they use and how much water they pump in hydraulic fracturing operations. The information would then be posted on a state website.
The Western States Petroleum Assn. did not respond to a request for comment.
Industry representatives and state regulators have said that fracking firms use far less water in California than they do elsewhere due to the state's geology. The procedure is less intensive here, they say, because it is used mostly to extract crude from old oil wells, not for natural gas production.
-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento
Photo: A fracking operation takes place on leased farmland near Dimock, Pa., where dairy farms used to dominate. Credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times