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Fracking vs. irrigation?

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Dear Editor:

Oil and gas extraction nationally already uses 16 percent of freshwater in the US (http://www.anthropocenemagazine.org/2018/09/this-is-how-much-water-it-takes-to-produce-energy-in-the-us/).

Fracking a gas well in the Permian basin takes 42,560 m3/well = 34.5 acre-feet (an amount that has increased by 770 percent since 2011, as wells have gotten bigger); I use this figure as the most recent I could find for research on the water demands for fracking: Kondash, Andrew J., Nancy E. Lauer, and Avner Vengosh. "The Intensification of the Water Footprint of Hydraulic Fracturing." Science Advances 4, no. 8 (2018). (sciencemag.org/content/advances/suppl/2018/08/13/4.8.eaar5982.DC1/aar5982_SM.pdf)

Up to 1,200 wells have been proposed for drilling in the North Fork Valley watershed.

1,200 wells each using 34.5 acre-feet (and that's just for fracking once; many wells are fracked multiple times) would use 41,400 acre-feet. That's almost three times what Paonia Reservoir holds, and if my calculations are correct, that's just about how much water the Fire Mountain Canal used this year. This is the largest irrigation canal in the North Fork Valley, and many farms and orchards along its 35-mile length rely on it to produce their crops, as do other landowners (like me).

Withdrawal of that amount of water from the watershed would have severe implications for availability of water for agriculture, for aquatic wildlife, and for recreation on the North Fork of the Gunnison River.

I think the issue of where the water is supposed to come from for the leases proposed for sale this winter in the North Fork Valley watershed needs to be addressed before they are offered for sale. It's also important to consider the question of where all the flowback and produced water from up to 41,000 acre-feet of water is supposed to go. How could it be disposed of safely, removing it from the hydrological cycle, and without inducing seismic activity?

Dr. David W. Inouye

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