Water Sources and Quantity for Energy Development in Colorado's Denver-Julesburg Basin

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Reagan Waskom1, Julie Kallenberger1, Karie Boone1, Beth Plombon1 and Joseph N Ryan2, (1)Colorado State University, Colorado Water Institute, Fort Collins, CO, United States, (2)Univ Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States
Over the past decade, Colorado has experienced a significant rise in oil and gas development with the greatest concentration of activity occurring in the Denver-Julesburg Basin (DJB) in the Northeast corner of the state. According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, as of June 2014, there are approximately 52,200 active oil and gas wells statewide, with over 21,300 located in Weld County, the epicenter of the DJB. In this water-scarce region, much attention is paid to the source and quantity of water being used to produce energy. This information is not readily accessible, but is of great importance to many. In response, our research team is undertaking an evaluation of water quantity impacts and tradeoffs associated with oil and gas development.

Technological advancements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing require additional sources of water - about 2.8 million gallons of per well (Goodwin et al.). The statewide water use for hydraulic fracturing is estimated to be less than 0.1%; however, on a local scale, when water is transferred from agricultural and municipal uses to industrial use, there are economic, environmental and social tradeoffs. Unfortunately, the pathway of a particular water transfer and its associated tradeoffs can be difficult to predict and quantify, further complicating the ability of local and state stakeholders to make sound and informative decisions about energy development. Energy companies are implementing new strategies to ensure reliable water supplies for their operations. These include tapping into non-tributary aquifers to help reduce competition for fully appropriated surface and tributary groundwater sources and recycling and reusing wastewater that results from the drilling and extraction practices.

Many conflicting perspectives shape the water-energy discussion in the DJB so non-biased scientific data plays an important role in addressing the questions surrounding water use for energy development. This presentation will address the data gathered through the National Science Foundation Sustainability Research Network AirWaterGas Project (http://airwatergas.org/) and its contribution to the dynamic conversation about the changing uses of limited water resources in Colorado.