They say oil and water don’t mix, but when it comes to oil and gas drilling, water and oil are practically joined at the hip.
It takes millions of gallons of water to drill a well. Water is the “hydraulic” in the hydraulic fracturing process used to release oil and gas deposits. Disposing of wastewater is a costly challenge for drillers. And, at every step along the way, preventing groundwater contamination is the paramount concern for inspectors and regulators.
All of these issues are hitting like a flash flood for Colorado Springs and El Paso County. Oil and gas drillers have been expanding their exploration south in recent years from Weld County, the focus of eastern Colorado’s oil country.
Local governments were caught by surprise when Houston, Texas-based Ultra Resources bought 18,000 acres of Banning Lewis Ranch at a bankruptcy auction last year and then applied for permits to drill both on the ranch and in unincorporated El Paso County. More recently, a second company, Hilcorp Energy, also based in Houston, has applied to drill at two well sites of its own in El Paso County. Other companies have leased the mineral rights under land scattered all over the county.
It may take several years before Ultra and the others know just how much oil and gas is under the county’s plains, but if drilling takes off, it will require water. A lot of water.