For Farms in the West, Oil Wells Are Thirsty Rivals by Matthew Staver, September 5, 2012, The New York Times
“It’s not a level playing field,” said Peter V. Anderson, who grows corn and alfalfa on the parched plains of eastern Colorado. “I don’t think in reality that the farmer can compete with the oil and gas companies for that water. Their return is a hell of a lot better than ours.”
In average years, farmers and ranchers like Mr. Anderson say they pay about $30 for an acre foot of water — equal to about 326,000 gallons — a price that can rise to $100 when water is scarce. Right now, oil and gas companies in parts of Colorado are paying as much as $1,000 to $2,000 for an equal amount of treated water from city pipes. That money can be a blessing for strained local utilities and water departments, but farmers say there is no way they can afford to match those bids. “We’re not going to be able to raise the food we need,” said Ben Rainbolt, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “How are we going to produce this with less?” In the spring, during an annual auction of surplus water in northern Colorado, Mr. Anderson and a handful of other farmers were outbid by water haulers who supply hydraulic fracturing wells.
“Energy companies are moving quickly to shore up supplies,” said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. “They’re going to find it, and they’re going to pay what they need to pay, and it’s on an order of magnitude of what crop producers can afford to pay. That changes the whole deal.”
“Water flows uphill to money,” said Mike Chiropolos, a lawyer for Western Resource Advocates, an environmental group based in Boulder. “It’s only going to get more precious and more scarce.” In June, the group released a study that accused Colorado of underestimating the amount of water used in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, saying the true figure was between 7.2 billion and 13 billion gallons per year — enough to serve as many as 296,100 people.