Colo. cities profit by selling water for fracking

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Some northern Colorado cities are earning thousands of dollars selling municipal water for use in hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

The Fort Collins Coloradoan reported Sunday that the town of Windsor sold more than 8.4 million gallons to the oil and gas industry for nearly $17,000 between Nov. 1 and March 1.

The town sold no water to energy companies the previous two years. The volume has grown so quickly that town officials haven’t had time to consider the implications.

“It’s really kind of is a phenomenon.” Town Manager Kelly Arnold said. “There’s been no policy discussion on this. I would define it as an emerging issue.”

In 2011, Greeley sold more than 491 million gallons, mostly to the oil and gas industry, for $1.6 million.

Fort Lupton sold about 154 million gallons of municipal water to the oil and gas industry in 2011 for more than $677,000. The city is using the money to pay down its $20 million debt on a water treatment plant.

“It’s been a benefit to us, a great benefit,” said City Administrator Claud Hanes.

Fracking uses pressurized water, sand and chemicals to crack open fissures within wells and improve the flow of oil and gas.

Colorado regulators project that about 5.2 billion gallons of water will be used this year for fracking statewide, compared with 4.5 trillion gallons used by agriculture each year.

Some conservationists argue increasing use of fracking could consume more water than the state can spare, especially if elected officials and the energy industry’s calculations are wrong.

“They don’t understand what the cumulative impact is going to be if we put in another 100,000 wells,” said Phillip Doe of Littleton, a former environmental compliance officer for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

If all the wells that exist today were fracked multiple times, “it’s not hard to come up with calculations that come up with Denver’s annual water use,” he said. “This stuff goes underground and never comes back.”

Thom Kerr, acting director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said much of the water does come back over time.

A January report by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the Colorado Water Conservation Board said fracking consumes 0.08 percent of the state’s water supply.