Colorado's new fracking rules lauded

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Oil and gas working group to be formed

Routt County Planning Department Director Chad Phillips said Tuesday that the Routt County Board of Commissioners has directed him to form a working group of informed citizens to explore issues related to energy exploration in Northwest Colorado.

“We have a lot of people living here who have expertise,” Phillips said.

Formation of a working group was a suggestion that came out of a Dec. 8 public work session on the county’s oil and gas regulations. Phillips said he tentatively is planning a meeting in the last week of December and another in early January.

The meetings will be public but will not involve public comment.

— Local and regional advocates of more stringent oil and gas industry regulations called Tuesday’s announcement about new Colorado rules, which require the industry to divulge details about the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, a step in the right direction but not the answer to all of their concerns.

“It’s a great step forward, but this doesn’t get us 100 percent of the way there,” said Rodger Steen, of the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that members of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved a new set of rules to take effect in April that would require energy companies to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking and the proportions or concentrations of those chemicals. The rules allow energy companies to withhold some details about compounds they deem proprietary except in cases of an accident. The companies would have to explain the proprietary nature of the chemicals and name the chemical family of those compounds. Should an accident occur, the companies would be obligated to provide full details to emergency responders.

Mike Chiropolos, land program director for Western Resource Advocates in Boulder, said simply knowing the chemicals used in fracking won’t be sufficient to protect public health should those chemicals show up in drinking water wells. In addition, he said, the citizens of Colorado should be protected by baseline and ongoing testing to establish water quality prior to the commencement of energy drilling in locations across the state. The recent finding by the EPA that fracking fluids are a possible cause of well-water contamination in Pavillion, Wyo., speaks directly to the need for baseline testing, he added.

Energy industry officials are saying the EPA’s report is unfounded. Chiropolos said prior water testing could have answered the question with more certainty.

“This was a compromise, but it was an example of a collaborative effort,” Chiropolos said about Tuesday’s decision in Colorado. “Baseline testing (of water) is integral to this. If you don’t know the problem, you can’t address it. That’s unacceptable. It should be mandatory for every well in every formation. It shouldn’t matter where you live.”

Steen is co-chairman, with Paul Stettner, of the Community Alliance committee on the county’s oil and gas regulations. He said his group is pushing for energy drilling permits to be a county permit process separate from the permission to use hydraulic fracturing on the same well.

Routt County Planning Department Director Chad Phillips said Tuesday that current regulations do not allow the county to directly regulate whether an energy company fracks a well. However, the county exerts indirect influence on that decision because it has the authority to regulate the use of county roads, which lead to most fracked wells, because of the heavy weight and resulting impact of the water trucks that make multiple trips to the well pad during fracking.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

sedgemo 2 years, 4 months ago

Kudos to the folks working at the state level. And more to the agreement to form a working group, an idea which seemed to be disregarded at the Dec. 8 commissioner's work session.

"Routt County Planning Department Director Chad Phillips said Tuesday that current regulations do not allow the county to directly regulate whether an energy company fracks a well. However, the county exerts indirect influence on that decision because it has the authority to regulate the use of county roads, which lead to most fracked wells, because of the heavy weight and resulting impact of the water trucks that make multiple trips to the well pad during fracking."

Is Tom or Chad the author of the second sentence above? Neither seem to remember the butane fracking on Wolf Mtn. in November, which didn't require massive water hauling on county roads. Looks to me like fracking is a wide open proposition on permitted wells between now and April in Routt County?

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 4 months ago

The "emergency" may come as a surface spill, where the new disclosures will be helpful.

But the more likely problem is the "non-emergency", an unaccounted migration of toxic well fluids into groundwater over the course of many years. In that case these rules preclude the chemical fingerprint that could tie a company to its proper liability.

Not that it matters much, at that point.

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fanofsteamboatsprings 2 years, 4 months ago

This is largely a meaningless gesture. OK, so we may know what is going into a well but now what? So it shows up in our wells, is that going to stop them from using the chemicals or motivate county officials to change anything? Absolutely not.

Although it has been pointed out that the butane-fracking that was used at the Hayden well did not utilize any water, it did use over 500,000 gallons of a butane gel which went into the well. Is hauling this much gas back and forth any safer than some chemicals being pumped into the well?

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sedgemo 2 years, 4 months ago

Fan, I don't know if it's any safer or not to haul butane, and haven't seen the 500,000 gal. figure before, but was just pointing out the folly of thinking the county has control over fracking simply through road regulations.

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trump_suit 2 years, 4 months ago

The importance here is that when combined with pre-drilling baseline studies it can be determined whether the contamination discovered later is actually from the drilling efforts or caused by natural events.

For too long the Oil/Gas companies have been allowed to play a stratedgy of denying everything and claiming that their processes are inherently safe. Without knowing what chemicals they are using, it is impossible to say whether they caused the problem or not. Further complicating the process is the complete lack of pre-drilling baseline studies.

I am not against the efforts to extract these resources. I am in favor of the Keystone pipeline and believe that we should be developing these resources. However, letting these companies operate without strong environmental regulation will lead to another Gulf Oil spill or an Exxon Valdez right here in Routt County.

Mr. Monger as your constituent, I demand that you place the health of this County and it's citizens as your highest priority. let's make absolutely sure that we have adequate base line studies BEFORE we allow profits to be made at the expense of our water and air.

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 4 months ago

One begins to understand the frustration of the minorities, at many levels, who have inadvertently made their roots too close to a pollution point, and then found themselves helpless against the majority far away, whose lives are made cheaper by that pollution.

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 4 months ago

A sobering story that keeps repeating itself in this country: "The General Electric superfraud: Why the Hudson River will never run clean." by David Cargill, Harper's, December 2009

http://harpers.org/archive/2009/12/0082753

This link requires a $17 subscription. But it is worth the understanding of how industry and government regulation interact, leaving no doubt as to who is the fox, and who are the hens:

"Before these "probable human carcinogens" were banned in 1977, PCB's were wantonly spewed from GE's plants on the Hudson."

"Its not that we believe the EPA are bad people.... Everybody around here is living an experiment conducted by General Electric".

"Thirty miles to the west, well placed interests called for a cleanup of the Hudson and fared little better, embracing a solution unworthy of the name that gives false comfort to the public while ignoring the motherlode of Pyranol still oozing out of the bedrock”.

Mitigation of groundwater pollution is an impossible dream. In my opinion, Tom Ross, this article is a must read if you intend to understand the history of big industry and pollution. A history Routt County cannot afford to dismiss.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 4 months ago

Why do you say things like PCB pollution keeps repeating itself. It was stuff like that which inspired the formation of the EPA which then moved to ban PCBs.

And the issue with cleaning up rivers and bays is that the pollutants that have settled into the sediment is basically captured and so is being released into the water at low rates, but trying to remove it disturbs it and allows huge amounts to enter the river and then some settles on top of the riverbed downstream. So the Hudson may never run clean enough to eat the river fish, that is still a lot better than it catching on fire.

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 4 months ago

It is the behavior that repeats itself. The recent driller's fracking brew holds plenty of other carcinogens to be concerned about. But my point is the article's history of behavior by a polluting industry, the government supposed to oversee that industry, and the citizens in between (some of whom work for the industry). The article closes on a similar note, that the parties’ behavior provides us useful, cautionary history, "Although we've changed, the Hudson's capacity to reflect our likeness remains, and in this mirror our (worst traits) and ignorance are plainly visible."

The worst behavior of the industry and government players does repeat itself. As an exception rather than the rule, but it does happen. Fracking is one obvious exception, when the extraction industry is unwilling and not required to disclose the quantity of the carcinogens and other toxins they are sending down their wells.

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 4 months ago

This article contradicts my contention that the largest problem is unaccounted migration of toxic well fluids into groundwater over the course of many years. My concerns remain valid, but are not the most immediate.

http://scienceprogressaction.org/intersection/2011/11/fracking-dangers-real-and-overblown/

"Faulty cementing is the leading sus­pect in possible sources of contamination, and by industry’s definition it is not part of fracking. ... Drillers fill the gap between the gas pipe and the wall of the hole with con­crete so the buoyant gas cannot rise up along the outside of the pipe and possibly seep into groundwater. A casing failure might also allow the chemical flowback water, propelled by the pressure released when the shale is cracked, to leak out"."Cementing is the obvious “weak link,” according to Anthony Gorody, a hydroge­ologist and consultant to gas companies who has been a defender of fracking. Oth­er scientists emphatically agree.

“A significant percentage of cement jobs will fail,” Ingraffea says. “It will always be that way. It just goes with the territory.”

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steamboatsconscience 2 years, 4 months ago

Well, they must have found some Texas Tea at Wolf Mt. since I saw at least 3 - 12' diam 45' long brand spanking new oil tanks going down Lincoln yesterday afternoon....... Christmas present for Bobby W!!

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kathy foos 2 years, 4 months ago

I think the EPA rules to come out in Feb ,will address the rules for casing's, requiring more expensive equipment,but alot more fool proof then what is being used currently. The oil company's should have a license fee to pay for the monitoring by an independent agency of pollutant's.It should help the industry and develope a trust with the public.They should pay for it and it should be independent of the Colo. gas and oil commission.A watch dog agency to be independent of all others to protect Colorado property's and people. A ban on fracking in the National Forests and Wilderness areas.We shouldn't trust a fracking operation in our forest.Normal oil wells,signed and fenced off that are already in place (grandfathered in,) should stay as they are with no expansion.Never fracking and no new wells approved in The National Forest and Flattops Wilderness area. Private property should be the only options for future drilling.And people that loose property value because of a fracking startup's nearby,should be compensated some how. We have already seen the potential for oil tank explosion in the forest and thank goodness no fire spread from the 2007 oil tank explosion. Nearby County's should not be allowed to permit fracking in the forest that we use and is far removed from themselves and hazmat mobilization,emergency workers.Meeker says what happens to our Wilderness area this side?They say how much our County Roads can take?I don't think that they will haul that product to Meeker over Dunkley in the winter.It will be Hayden or Soutt Routt.

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