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Blessing or curse?

Brennan Linsley/Associated Press

A worker checks water levels and temperatures in a series of tanks at an Encana Oil & Gas Inc. hydraulic fracturing operation at a natural-gas drilling site outside Rifle. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” can greatly increase the productivity of wells by splitting open rock with water, fine sand and lubricants pumped underground at high pressure. Companies typically need several million gallons of water to frack a single well. In western Colorado, Encana says it recycles over 95 percent of the water it uses for fracking to save money and limit use of local water supplies.

By BRENNAN LINSLEY
Associated Press

RIFLE

Three hours west of Denver, across the Continental Divide, the Rocky Mountains begin the long transition into high desert plateaus.

This sparsely populated land is dotted with ranches and small towns that were once local hubs for mining the rich minerals found under the earth.But during the last few years, this town and others have become increasingly a local center for the natural-gas industry. Off the highway outside town in all directions, one can see evidence, large and small, of the latest local energy boom, from natural-gas extraction all the way up the chain to refining.

Hydraulic fracturing – “fracking,” for short – pumps millions of gallons of water mixed with fine sand and chemicals deep into gas and oil wells.

The water splits open oil- and gas-bearing rock. Specially formulated fracking fluids help carry the sand into the newly formed fissures and keep the cracks propped open.

The rapid growth of the natural-gas and oil industry in the region has brought opposition from those who warn of environmental costs. In some places, the practice has been blamed for air pollution and gas leaks that have ruined well water. But federal and many state regulators say the practice is safe when done properly.

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