Weld County is located in northern Colorado just east of Rocky Mountain National Park, the headwaters of the Platte and Colorado Rivers. Weld County leads the state in oil and gas production with over 16,500 active oil and gas wells. Weld County, the largest county in Colorado, shares a geological formation called Niobrara Shale with Wyoming, Kansas and Nebraska but the majority of the formation lies in Colorado. The Niobrara Shale formation is a very thin deposit of fossil fuels located between 3,000 and 14,000 feet below the surface of the earth. Horizontal drilling technology has allowed companies to tap into the thin (400 feet thick) shale formation, producing up to 12 times as much oil and gas as was previously possible. Companies like Chesapeake Energy own over 1,200 square miles of leases on the Niobrara and have recently partnered with the Chinese National Offshore Oil Co. in a $1.3 billion dollar deal to explore options in this region.
Many people are concerned about the industrial use of water in this drought stricken region of Colorado. Oil and gas companies use millions of gallons of water and thousands of chemicals in the process of fracking each drill site. With water already scarce in Colorado, increased fracking operations threaten traditional uses of water, such as agriculture and recreation, as well as posing risks for polluting ground water.
In January 2013, Colorado regulators approved a rule that will require wells to be located at a distance of 500 feet from buildings, an increase from the 350 foot distance that was originally proposed. Many suburban areas in Weld County already have gas operations within that 500 foot buffer zone, and Weld County officials have publicly admitted that they will not abide by the new restrictions. One of the new rules that got preliminary approval in January will require groundwater to be tested before and after drilling activities. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commissionis working to protect the health of citizens by creating new measures that will keep the industry at a safe distance from residents, schools, hospitals and other public places. Still, some landowners and conservationists feel those measures do not adequately address safety concerns, and that setbacks should be much larger.