By Meg Wilcox
Just north of Denver lies Colorado's most productive agricultural region, Weld County. Its rolling hills, grasslands and South Platte River system provide fertile ground for dairy cows, beef cattle, corn, sugar beets and forage crops.
But Weld County also sits on top of the Niobrara (DJ Basin) shale formation and that makes it the number one hotspot in the U.S. for new hydraulic fracturing activity. Over the past five years, close to 7,000 wells were drilled within its 3,996 square-mile area.
Among the myriad impacts of fracking on county residents is stress on their water supply. To recover the natural gas unevenly distributed throughout the shale formation, the hydraulic fracturing process blasts large volumes of water, fine sand and chemicals into the ground to crack open the formations.
Weld County's nearly 7,000 fracking wells, in fact, used 16 billion gallons of water over the past five years, more than any other county in the U.S., according to new research by Ceres. And that's a concern because Weld County is a region with extremely high water stress, according to the World Resources Institute Aqueduct Map. Extremely high water stress means that more than 80 percent of the county's available water resources are already allocated for municipal, industrial and agricultural uses.
Weld County is not alone. Fracking activity throughout the arid south and west is placing increasing pressure on ever-tighter water supplies, with Colorado and Texas being ground zero.
Ceres researchers mapped water use in hydraulic fracturing across the U.S., using data from FracFocus.org and the World Resources Institute, and found that 57 percent of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells between Jan. 1, 2011 and Jan. 1, 2016 were in regions of high water competition.
Our newly released interactive map shows water use by shale play and operator. Check it out:
Among our key findings:
- The top three shale plays by water use were the Eagle Ford in Texas, Marcellus in Pennsylvania and Midland Plays in Texas, with the Eagle Ford and Midland Plays being of particular concern given both their high water use and exposure to high water stress, drought and declining groundwater supplies.
- Chesapeake, EOG Resources and Anadarko Petroleum were the biggest water users overall, while Pioneer Natural Resources and Encana were especially active in regions with extremely high water stress.
- A total of 358 billion gallons of water was used for hydraulic fracturing over the 5-year timeframe, equivalent to the annual water needs of 200 mid-sized cities.
- While overall fracking-related water use peaked in 2014 along with the slowdown in oil and gas production and plummeting prices, average water use per well doubled since 2013, from 2.6 million gallons per well to 5.3 million gallons per well at the end of Jan. 2016. This is likely due to modifications in drill site activity.
Even though oil and gas production have slowed, local communities at the epicenter of fracking—many in the country's most water-stressed regions—still face significant long-term water sourcing risks.
Our research found that, in seven of the top 10 counties for fracking activity, annual water use for hydraulic fracturing reached more than 100 percent of each county's domestic water use.
That high level of demand for water from shale production companies can potentially drive up the price of water for everyone else, or make supplies harder to come by.
Several years ago, for example, Kent Peppler, a fourth-generation Weld County farmer, told The Associated Press that he was fallowing some of his corn fields that year because he couldn't afford to irrigate the land for the full growing season, in part because energy companies were driving up the price of water.
"There is a new player for water, which is oil and gas," Peppler said. "And certainly they are in a position to pay a whole lot more than we are."
Local communities also face the issue of wastewater disposal, with its potential impacts on drinking water supplies and earthquake activity. The enormous volumes of wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing are disposed of in underground deep well injection sites, which has been linked to both surface and groundwater contamination and to earthquakes.
It's Official: Injection of Fracking Wastewater Caused Kansas’ Biggest Earthquake https://t.co/nvk4stRwC0 @Frack_Off @Peter_Seeger— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1476566116.0
But the companies themselves face long-term water sourcing risks in these regions with high water stress, as well as an emerging regulatory risk related to wastewater disposal. Oklahoma, for example recently ordered the shut down of 37 wastewater disposal wells after a 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck the state.
Investors with oil and gas companies in their portfolios are taking note. As Steven Heim, managing director for Boston Common Asset Management, recently put it, "Hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas extraction, which used to be 'unconventional,' is now a part of most conventional energy company portfolios in the U.S. and Canada. This has made water management a critical liability or competitive advantage for companies and their investors."
There are certain operational practices and other steps that oil and gas companies can take to lessen their water impacts and lower their risks. For example, shale operators can consult with local communities on water needs and wastewater plans before starting operations, collaborate with industry peers and other industries on local water sourcing challenges and develop local source water protection plans. You can find a full list of our recommendations here.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed a sweeping climate bill on Thursday that would have put the commonwealth on a path to eliminating carbon emissions by 2050.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Ajit Niranjan
World leaders and businesses are not putting enough money into adapting to dangerous changes in the climate and must "urgently step up action," according to a report published Thursday by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Adaptation Has a Long Way to Go<p>The Adaptation Gap Report, now in its 5th year, finds "huge gaps" between what world leaders agreed to do under the 2015 <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/5-years-paris-climate-agreement/a-55901139" target="_blank">Paris Agreement</a> and what they need to do to keep their citizens safe from climate change.</p><p>A review by the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative of almost 1,700 examples of climate adaptation found that a third were in the early stages of implementation — and only 3% had reached the point of reducing risks.</p><p>Disasters like storms and droughts have grown stronger than they should be because people have warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels and chopping down rainforests. The world has heated by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution and is on track to warm by about 3°C by the end of the century.</p><p>If world leaders <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-change-performance-index-how-far-have-we-come/a-55846406" target="_blank">deliver on recent pledges</a> to bring emissions to <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/joe-bidens-climate-pledges-are-they-realistic/a-56173821" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">net-zero</a> by the middle of the century, they could almost limit warming to 2°C. The target of the Paris Agreement, however, is to reach a target well below that — ideally 1.5°C. </p><p>There are two ways, scientists say, to lessen the pain that warming will bring: mitigating climate change by cutting carbon pollution and adapting to the hotter, less stable world it brings.</p>
The Cost of Climate Adaptation<p>About three-quarters of the world's countries have national plans to adapt to climate change, according to the report, but most lack the regulations, incentives and funding to make them work.</p><p>More than a decade ago, rich countries most responsible for climate change pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 in climate finance for poorer countries. UNEP says it is "impossible to answer" whether that goal has been met, while an OECD study published in November found that between 2013 and 2018, the target sum had not once been achieved. Even in 2018, which recorded the highest level of contributions, rich countries were still $20 billion short.</p><p>The yearly adaptation costs for developing countries alone are estimated at $70 billion. This figure is expected to at least double by the end of the decade as temperatures rise, and will hit $280-500 billion by 2050, according to the report.</p><p>But failing to adapt is even more expensive.</p><p>When powerful storms like cyclones Fani and Bulbul struck South Asia, early-warning systems allowed governments to move millions of people out of danger at short notice. Storms of similar strength that have hit East Africa, like <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/zimbabwe-after-cyclone-idai-building-climate-friendly-practices/a-54251885" target="_blank">cyclones Idai</a> and Kenneth, have proved more deadly because fewer people were evacuated before disaster struck.</p><p>The Global Commission on Adaptation estimated in 2019 that a $1.8 trillion investment in early warning systems, buildings, agriculture, mangroves and water resources could reap $7.1 trillion in benefits from economic activity and avoided costs when disasters strike.</p>
Exploring Nature-Based Solutions<p>The report also highlights how restoring nature can protect people from climate change while benefiting local communities and ecology.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-fires-risk-climate-change-bushfires-australia-california-extreme-weather-firefighters/a-54817927" target="_blank">Wildfires</a>, for instance, could be made less punishing by restoring grasslands and regularly burning the land in controlled settings. Indigenous communities from Australia to Canada have done this for millennia in a way that encourages plant growth while reducing the risk of uncontrolled wildfires. Reforestation, meanwhile, can stop soil erosion and flooding during heavy rainfall while trapping carbon and protecting wildlife.</p><p>In countries like Brazil and Malaysia, governments could better protect coastal homes from floods and storms by restoring <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/mudflats-mangroves-and-marshes-the-great-coastal-protectors/a-50628747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mangroves</a> — tangled trees that grow in tropical swamps. As well as anchoring sediments and absorbing the crash of waves, mangroves can store carbon, help fish populations grow and boost local economies through tourism. </p><p>While nature-based solutions are often cheaper than building hard infrastructure, their funding makes up a "tiny fraction" of adaptation finance, the report authors wrote. An analysis of four global climate funds that spent $94 billion on adaptation projects found that just $12 billion went to nature-based solutions and little of this was spent implementing projects on the ground.</p><p>But little is known about their long-term effectiveness. At higher temperatures, the effects of climate change may be so great that they overwhelm natural defenses like mangroves.</p><p>By 2050, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/rising-sea-levels-should-we-let-the-ocean-in-a-50704953/a-50704953" target="_blank">coastal floods</a> that used to hit once a century will strike many cities every year, according to a 2019 report on oceans by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the gold standard on climate science. This could force dense cities on low-lying coasts to build higher sea walls, like in Indonesia and South Korea, or evacuate entire communities from sinking islands, like in Fiji.</p><p>It's not a case of replacing infrastructure, said Matthias Garschagen, a geographer at Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany and IPCC author, who was not involved in the UNEP report. "The case for nature-based solutions is often misinterpreted as a battle... but they're part of a toolkit that we've ignored for too long."</p>
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