States Must Take Lead to Make Sure Water Isn't "Gone for Good"

Fracking Is Draining Western Water, Says Regional Group


Oil and gas extraction practices are permanently removing at least seven billion gallons of water from the hydrologic cycle each year in just four arid western states, according to a new report, Gone for Good, published by the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC).

The reason for the huge loss of water is that states have failed to place adequate protections on the use and contamination of fresh water in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the technology that has allowed the oil and gas industry to extract oil and gas from shale formations, such as the Bakken field in North Dakota and Montana.

“Fracking’s growing demand for water can threaten availability of water for agriculture and Western rural communities,” said Bob LeResche, Clearmont, Wyoming, of WORC’s Board of Directors and the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

The Bakken pulled North Dakota from ninth to second in oil production in just a few years, but one of the costs of fracking is at least four billion gallons of water removed from the hydrological cycle in the past year.

“We need to conserve water for the next generation, and the one after that,” said Theodora Bird Bear, a Board member of Dakota Resource Council, who is a Three Affiliated Tribes member and a resident of Fort Berthold Reservation. “That means reducing the amount of water used for oil drilling, or finding ways to purify and recycle it.”

The report analyzes water withdrawals and state oversight of water use for fracking in four states where member groups of WORC are active: North Dakota (Dakota Resource Council), Montana (Northern Plains Resource Council), Wyoming (Powder River Basin Resource Council) and Colorado (Western Colorado Congress).

LeResche said coal bed methane (CBM) production has already compromised Wyoming’s groundwater quantity. “A study by the Wyoming State Engineer found that the Fort Union aquifer has dropped as much as 625 feet since 1997 due, in large part, to extraction and disposal of groundwater used for CBM production,” LeResche said. “It would take 50,000 years to replenish the aquifer.”

In the absence of federal laws, states play the key role in regulating and monitoring oil and gas drilling, including water use. “There’s been a lot of debate over fracking and pollution, but little notice of what in the long term may be an even more serious threat,” LeResche said.

The WORC report found that fracking, and its thirst for water, has become standard operating procedure for almost all new oil and gas drilling in the nation.

“Colorado already has competition for water. We can’t create more water. Removing water from the hydrological system is unwise,” said Bob Arrington, a retired engineer from Mesa Battlement, Colo., and member of the Western Colorado Congress.

It also found that the four state agencies have “continued to emphasize permitting new wells over regulation” and “have often joined the industry in an effort to downplay the impacts of oil and gas extraction.”

“Multiple agencies in Montana are responsible for different aspects of water law, and no single agency addresses the cumulative water use by the oil and gas industry,” said Pat Wilson, whose family ranches along the Missouri River east of Bainville, Mont. “In fact, the agencies are promoting selling water to oil and gas companies. We need to realize that this water is ‘gone for good’ once it is used by the industry.”

WORC’s report urges states to take back responsibility for both planning and recordkeeping, and also that it conduct a “thorough, impartial study of the water resources available, and of how much fracking can be conducted without endangering those resources.”

Based in Billings, Mont., WORC is a network of conservation and family farmers and ranchers in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Gone for Good is available at


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