September 20, 2016--Shaping water access and allocation: A relation analysis of water use for oil and gas development in Colorado (NIWR)

The state of Colorado’s Division of Water Resources considers water use for oil and gas (OG) extraction activities as short-term and an insignificant percentage of Colorado’s overall water consumption. The Statewide Water Supply Plan makes no mention of concern about OG water uses; and OG activities are not represented at the Basin Roundtables, a state initiated water governance mechanism mandated to integrate bottom-up, local decision-making into the State’s Water Plan. These are the predominant entities responsible for guiding water policy, and while Colorado’s institutions were built on the premise of mining interests, the contemporary pace and scale of energy extraction represents a new phenomenon that has not been critically examined. Indeed, the quantity and sourcing of water for OG operations are not accurately documented or fully understood by state agencies. At the same time, the number of active OG wells in the state has gone from 22,500 in 2002 to almost 54,000 in 2016. Changing water use is particularly important on the South Platte River in Weld County and the Colorado River in Garfield County since they contain the largest percentage of active wells with 22,724 and 11,067 OG wells respectively. Throughout its lifecycle, each well uses between 3-8 million gallons, or between 9-24 acre feet of water. To meet the increasing demand for OG use, water suppliers, right holders, and Colorado’s diverse community of users are innovating ways to navigate the rules governing water access and allocation to find flexibility in the State’s water institutions. With financial support from the National Institutes for Water Resources and the Colorado Water Institute, this research study examined how OG water users are able to find flexibility in the system when other uses have not, who is impacted by this type of flexibility, how, and what it means for access by other users. To view the full article visit the National Institute for Water Resources.