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Frackers Outbid Farmers For Water in Colorado Drought

Colorado's hydrofracking boom — a technology that heavily relies on water — only adds additional strain as farmers and drillers bid for a scarce resource.
 
 
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Colorado is facing drought not seen since 2002, following the  fourth-warmest and third-least-snowy winter in US history. Colorado State University scientists report that  98 percent of the state is facing these drought conditions.

The drought comes after a record-breaking warm winter that left very low “snowpack levels” in water basins. “Even though the reservoir levels are still strong and northeast Colorado soil moisture is still pretty good, we just don’t usually start out quite this warm and dry at this time — so this is very concerning,” CSU climatologist Nolan Doesken said. “In 2002, things didn’t seem that bad at the end of March, as March had been quite cool, with some snow.”

Colorado’s hydrofracking boom — a technology that heavily relies on water — only adds additional strain as farmers and drillers bid for a scarce resource:

At Colorado’s premier auction for unallocated water this spring, companies that provide water for hydraulic fracturing at well sites were top bidders on supplies once claimed exclusively by farmers. [...]

State officials charged with promoting and regulating the energy industry estimated that fracking required about 13,900 acre-feet in 2010. That’s a small share of the total water consumed in Colorado, about 0.08 percent. However, this fast-growing share already exceeds the amount that the ski industry draws from mountain rivers for making artificial snow. Each oil or gas well drilled requires 500,000 to 5 million gallons of water.

A Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission report projected water needs for fracking will increase to 18,700 acre-feet a year by 2015.

Farmers who go to the auctions seeking to produce food — or maybe plant more acres — are on equal footing with companies seeking water for fracking, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said.

“If you have a beneficial use for the water, then you can bid for that water,” Werner said. “We see the beneficial use of the water as a positive for the economy of the whole region. Fracking is one of those uses. Our uses of water have evolved over 150 years.”

States including Colorado, Alabama, Florida, and Virginia have all faced  raging wildfires before wildfire season even officially sets off, fueled by the winter that wasn’t and the March madness powered by global warming pollution from fossil-fuel polluters like Colorado’s frackers.

Rebecca Leber is a research assistant for the ThinkProgress war room. She graduated from the University of Rochester and holds a B.A. in political science and English with a minor in economics.

 
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