HOW MANY ACTIVE OIL AND GAS WELLS ARE THERE IN COLORADO?
A) 28,000 B) 60,000 C) 130,000
Answer: B) 60,000
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, injects high-pressure “fracking fluid” (typically made up of water, sand, and other chemicals) into a wellbore to fracture deep-rock formations through which natural gas, petroleum, and brine will flow more freely.
When trying to determine water use in fracking operations, the numbers can be difficult to generalize. As the U.S. Geological Survey notes:
“There isn’t really a “typical” fractured well because the amount of water used depends on the rock formation, the operator, whether the well is vertical or horizontal, and the number of portions (or stages) of the well that are fractured. In addition, some water is recycled from fluids produced by the well, so the net consumption might be smaller at sites that recycle.”
Water use per well can be anywhere from about 1.5 million gallons to about 16 million gallons.
The Colorado state government reports 1 to 5 million gallons of water are used per well fracked in the state, or approximately 3 to 15 acre-feet. As of May 2017, approximately 60,000 oil and gas wells were active with an additional 20,000 abandoned in Colorado.
One acre-foot of water is typically enough for 2-3 households for one year and equals approximately 326,000 gallons of water. For comparison, the Cherry Creek Reservoir has a storage capacity of 13,960 acre-feet.
A 2010 report prepared jointly by the Colorado Division of Water Resources, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission found water used for fracking in 2010 was slightly less than one-tenth of one percent of the total water used in Colorado. In 2015, the report predicted, the water use was projected to increase by 4,800 acre-feet to slightly more than one-tenth of one percent of the total water used.
The report notes, however, that the predictions are tentative and based on the following assumptions:
The demand for new gas wells will remain relatively flat.
The number of drilling rigs in the state will remain relatively flat.
The number of wells drilled will remain relatively flat because of rig count.
The number of horizontal oil wells drilled will increase approximately 20% each year.
The number of vertical wells drilled will decrease proportionally with the increase in horizontal wells drilled.
For context, the following charts present other water use sources in the state.
While these are the most recent numbers available for Colorado, a 2018 Duke University study found “water use for hydraulic fracturing and wastewater production in major shale gas and oil production regions has increased; from 2011 to 2016, the water use per well increased up to 770%.”
If Colorado fracking water use met the findings of the study, it would put 2016 fracking water use at 130,500 acre-feet compared to 2011’s 15,000 acre feet. According to currently available data, if Colorado fracking water use increased 770%, fracking water would still account for less than one percent of total statewide water use.