Federal, state, and local governments all take part in regulating the development of oil and natural gas, including fracking. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) oversees drilling, fracking, and reclamation. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have oversight when there is a release of an oil or natural gas product into the environment. The State of Colorado requires that oil and natural gas producers disclose ALL chemicals and concentrations to state regulators. Visit FracFocus.org for more information.

Fracking has been done safely for more than 65 years and, according to the Department of Energy, has been applied to approximately 2 million wells nationwide. Fracking is highly regulated by many government agencies and has been extensively studied and determined to be a fundamentally safe operation.

Fracking fluid consists of 99.5 percent water and sand, and 0.5 percent chemical additives which help increase production. Most of these additives are also found in common household items such as toothpaste or hand soap, or in the foods that we eat. Sand is pumped with the fluid to prop open tiny hairline fractures that allow the oil and natural gas to flow, while the additives help reduce friction and prevent bacteria growth, among other benefits. The State of Colorado requires that oil and natural gas producers disclose ALL chemicals and concentrations to state regulators. Visit FracFocus.org for more information.

Fracking occurs thousands of feet below underground freshwater supplies, separated by thick layers of impermeable rock. Colorado state law requires that each oil and natural gas well be encased with multiple separate layers of steel and cement to ensure that fracking fluid does not penetrate past the wellbore into drinking water sources. The steel and cement are regularly tested for integrity. Drinking water sources are also tested throughout different stages of well development, including before and after fracking. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed that fracking does not cause “widespread, systemic” water contamination.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) regulates “setbacks” from homes and high occupancy buildings. Colorado was the first state in the Rockies to push its “setbacks” to 500 feet from residences, and 1,000 feet from high occupancy buildings such as schools and hospitals.

  • Fracking makes economic production of oil and natural gas from most wells in the U.S. possible.
  • More than 90 percent of oil and natural gas wells in the U.S. are fracked.
  • Fracking has been performed in Colorado safely and responsibly for more than 65 years.
  • If we want energy to run our businesses, power our cars and heat our homes, we need to produce oil and natural gas out of the ground.
  • The process – which takes place thousands of feet underground – increases the oil and natural gas production from each well. As a result, we have fewer wells and produce more energy.
  • The average fracked well produces enough energy in a year to heat hundreds of Colorado homes.
  • Increased production helps reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, create jobs and generate revenues for governments.

Wells are fracked on both public and private land.  Operators enter into surface-use agreements with landowners to compensate landowners for surface use.  If the landowner is also the owner of the mineral rights, then they also receive royalties from the oil and natural gas sales.

Each and every chemical used in fracking is disclosed as required by state regulations. In fact, these chemicals can be found on FracFocus.org. Some combinations of these chemicals are trade secrets, and therefore cannot be disclosed, but all of these formulas can be accessed by doctors, health workers and scientists.

The National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have both determined that the process of fracking does not pose significant risk of earthquakes. There is some evidence that wastewater disposal – a completely different and separate process – can cause minor seismic events, but experts agree that these events are not systemic, as tens of thousands of injection wells have operated without incident.

Companies that are involved in developing oil and natural gas and their areas of operation can be found on the website for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, by searching the database tab at www.cogcc.state.co.us.

In oil and natural gas development, water is primarily used during the drilling and fracking phases. In drilling, water is used as a mechanism to bring drill cuttings (rock fragments from drilling a hole) to the surface. During the fracking process, water is pumped down a wellbore at high pressures, along with sand and small amounts of additives, to create small hairline fractures that provide flow paths for oil and natural gas to flow into a wellbore.

Companies procure water by:

  • Buying water from landowners who own the rights to sell it, and is lawfully permitted for use in oil and natural gas development
  • Buying excess water from municipalities
  • Acquiring water rights and drilling their own water wells
  • Recycling previously used water, when possible

According to its mission statement, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment – Air Pollution Control Division is responsible for coordinating and developing Colorado’s clean air quality plans consistent with state and federal law, and for submitting those plans to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, the Colorado General Assembly, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The division also implements and enforces all air quality requirements in the state.

Input from local governments is important in energy development in Colorado. Most local governments have a permitting process for oil and natural gas development in their communities. Cities and counties can also appoint a Local Government Designee to represent their community’s interests before the COGCC, the state agency in charge of regulating oil and natural gas development in Colorado. Many local governments also negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding, which is a legally binding agreement between operators and local governments addressing specific community concerns and permitting requirements.

When it comes to responsibly producing the oil and natural gas Coloradans need, our Noble Neighbor Program helps ensure we are doing everything we can to protect, respect and work together with the communities we call home. We worked together with state regulators and the environmental community to create strong environmental protections for oil and natural gas development – some of the strongest air, water, and land regulations in the country. Colorado’s regulations are often held up as a model for other states and the federal government to follow.

For Noble Energy, these strong regulations are just a starting point. In many cases, we use innovation and technology to reduce our impacts even further.

  • Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) Program: we use cameras equipped with advanced thermal imaging technology to reduce leaks
  • Integrated Development Plans:  we use long lateral wells, hydraulic fracturing and econodes to reduce our land use by 99 percent
  • Noble Operations and Control Center (NOCC): we remotely monitor our automated facilities 24/7, 365 days a year from our NOCC

Noble Energy constantly seeks new and innovative ways to safely produce oil and natural gas in the DJ Basin, while reducing our impact to the environment and local communities. Ten years ago, we began moving to an integrated development plan approach in Colorado, where we have large acreage positions in rural areas and can strategically combine facility locations with innovative processes and the latest technology to reduce our footprint and surface impacts.

Today, we are on the fourth generation of our integrated development plan design. The footprint reduction is remarkable. It now takes only 2.5 surface acres to produce the same amount of energy that previously required 400 surface acres – a reduction in land use of more than 99 percent. To put this in perspective, we utilize two football fields to produce the same amount of energy that previously required more than 300 football fields.

Learn more about our Integrated Development Plans.

  • Geology and mapping determine where the most promising areas for oil and natural gas deposits will be found. In Colorado, much of the production is associated with marine shales deposited 100 million years ago when much of what is now the Rockies was covered by the Western Interior Seaway. Typically, productive formations are bound above and below by impermeable layers that hold the hydrocarbons in place.  The basin needs to be like a bowl to hold the hydrocarbons and not let them escape to the surface. For example, the mountains are not a good area to find oil and natural gas due to uplifts in formations.
  • The permeability of the rock formations containing the oil and natural gas is a key component to whether the well will need to be fracked. In Colorado, many of the reservoirs are made of low permeability rock that does not allow oil and natural gas to flow readily to surface like conventional wells.  For example, the Niobrara formation – the prominent rock formation in northern Colorado that now produces oil and natural gas– is less permeable than a granite countertop. When tight reservoirs like the Niobrara are fracked, the openings created in the rock permit the oil and natural gas to flow to the surface.

The length of time on the pad depends on the configuration and number of wells on each site.  In general, a single well can be drilled in 10–20 days.

We work with the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission to install effective sound barriers, such as acoustic panels, around drilling rigs to reduce noise.

When drilling has reached approximately 500 feet or the depth required by the COGCC, 8 5/8″ casing will be run and cemented from this depth to surface. This depth will be at least 50 feet below the Fox Hills formation. This depth protects all fresh water aquifers and is approved by the COGCC.  Once cement has sufficiently cured (8 to 12 hours), drilling operations will resume.

The casing is pressure tested to assure integrity up to the maximum potential pressure during the completion and production phases.

  • The first step is to run a cement bond log to verify cement placement and quality. This log is submitted to the COGCC for review. The interval of potential hydrocarbon production is then perforated. Perforating the well is accomplished by lowering the perforating device by wireline into the well. The logging and perforating operation takes approximately one day for each well.
  • The next step in the completion phase is hydraulic fracturing. This is a means of hydraulically fracturing the formation and placing propping agents (usually sand) in the fracture to create a channel of flow capacity between the formation and the wellbore.
  • One to two days prior to hydraulic fracturing, storage tanks are set on location and filled with 2%KCL water. The hydraulic fracturing operation requires a number of truck-mounted pumps and other miscellaneous portable equipment. This operation requires one day rigging up, pumping and rigging down for each well. Storage tanks are removed from location following hydraulic fracturing.
  • Immediately following the hydraulic fracturing operation, the well is flowed back for seven to 14 days. In preparation for the flow back, two days prior to the operations, two empty 500-barrel tanks are temporarily moved on location. During this period of time, relatively large volumes of water and hydrocarbons flow and/or are swabbed (with a service unit) from the well into the 500-barrel empty tanks. These fluids are either sold or disposed of offsite at a COGCC approved facility. This operation will require additional truck traffic to transport these fluids off location.
  • Tubing is run inside the casing to improve the production efficiency as soon as the well performance indicates it is necessary (several days to several months after hydraulic fracturing). This normally requires a service unit, water truck and a flowback tank. The operation of running tubing usually takes from one to three days per fracture stimulation.

Based upon current market conditions and existing technology, the anticipated average life of a well in the area is 25-30 years.

  • A proposed procedure for plugging the well will be submitted to the COGCC for approval.
  • This procedure typically includes setting a cast iron bridge plug above the producing interval. This is covered with cement. Several other cement plugs may be set at designated intervals up the hole. A portion of the production casing may be cut off and pulled from the well. The casing is cut off approximately four feet below ground level and a steel plate is welded on the top of the casing.
  • Noble Energy maintains a field team focused on decommissioning and removing older wells and facilities – what we call the Noble Plug and Removal Program. We work hand-in-hand with local communities and landowners throughout this process.
  • After the equipment is removed, the land reclamation process begins. We restore these locations to their original condition, and by the time our operations and reclamation teams finish work, you would never know an oil and natural gas well had been there in the first place.
  • In many cases, after we reclaim the land, sites can be repurposed for other uses such as playgrounds, dog parks or farmland. The reclamation process is subject to stringent state requirements and must be approved by state officials and landowners before it can be completed.

The Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) requires: “The surface of the land shall be restored as nearly as practicable to its condition at the commencement of drilling operations.” To achieve this, the COGCC requires operators to provide detailed information regarding existing soil types and site-specific photographs of a proposed location before an approved drilling permit is issued. Reclamation includes planting native vegetation on all of the disturbed area, and is not considered complete until at least 80 % of the reclaimed area is established and growing.

Industrial facilities, the oil and natural gas industry, and other entities dispose of non-potable water deep underground through injection wells.  The underground injection of produced water (or wastewater) from oil and natural gas is regulated by the Underground Injection Control Program of the Safe Drinking Water Act.