The drought ravaging the heartland has thrown into stark relief an ongoing battle between farmers and energy companies for that most fundamental of resources: water. As the name implies, hydrofracking requires water, and lots of it—one well can use up to 5 million gallons—so gas companies are storming water auctions, farm ponds, and anywhere else they can get some H2O, the New York Times reports. Farmers say they can't afford to compete for those supplies.
Even in drought years like this, farmers typically pay at most $100 per acre foot of water; in Colorado, gas companies are currently paying $1,000-$2,000. "It's not a level playing field," one farmer says. "Their return is a hell of a lot better than ours." Of course, the money is a boon for cash-strapped cities, and energy companies say their effect on water supply is exaggerated. In Colorado, for instance, energy producers account for 0.1% of water use, compared to 85.5% for farmers.