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Colorado Water Agency Proposes New Fracking Regulations

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Northern Colorado’s largest water provider is proposing new regulations governing the use of its water to hydraulically fracture oil and gas wells.  The move comes as many cities and towns in the area have been leasing water to energy companies for fracking.

New regulations proposed by Northern Water would ensure that its water is only being leased to fracking companies for use within the agency’s strict boundaries in the South Platte River basin.  Much of Northern’s jurisdiction also lies within Weld County where state regulators have permitted some 500 new wells this year alone.

"What we’re trying to do is just be proactive," said Eric Wilkenson, general manager for Northern.  "We’ve got a new situation developing that is going to result in an increased water demand, so to address that in a proactive way, we want to put rules and regulations and procedures in place so that we can handle that."

Wilkinson says it’s not clear how much water the industry will require; if there’s as much oil under the ground in the Niobrara Shale as geologists speculate. 

Nor is it clear whether the already water-stretched region will have enough water to support all the fracking.

But oil industry representatives and officials from area cities including Greeley told Wilkenson and the rest of his board Friday that the new regulations are so punitive they could halt the leasing of water for fracking, and curtail economic growth. 

"This remarkable technology that could help supply domestic energy for many many years to come could be at risk if reliable water supplies are not available to do that," said Kent Holsinger of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Northern officials say that’s not the intent of the new proposed regulations.  The Board plans to take comment through early next month before finalizing the new rules. 

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.
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