Steamboat Institute to host fracking forum
May 7, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Rick Akin has been surprised to see hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, become such a controversial local issue of late.
"This is not a new deal," Akin said Monday, noting that the process to capture oil and gas has been used since the 1940s and was commonplace at oil wells near his high school in Maud, Okla. "Every oil well down there when I was a kid had been fracked. It was something I grew up knowing about and I never knew it to be a problem. When you see how it works, I think a lot of the fear goes away."
Akin, co-founder of the Steamboat Institute, said he hopes a community forum his group is hosting Tuesday night will educate residents about fracking "from the ground up" and quell misinformation about the process that injects sand and liquid deep into the Earth to recover hydrocarbons.
"There's a little more to it than punching a hole in the ground and pumping chemicals in it," he said. "Like anything else, something can go wrong, but I think once people see the whole process, they'll see some pains are taken to make sure there are no problems."
Fracking and its potential impact on the environment, especially groundwater, has become a hot topic in Routt County, where a waterless version of the method was used last year at an oil well near Hayden. The increasing use of the extraction method and its potential impact also have drawn the attention of state and federal governments.
A national issue
News broke last week that the U.S. Department of the Interior is considering adopting a new set of rules that could prompt operators of sites on federal lands to disclose the chemical ingredients of their fracking fluids. The secret nature of the chemicals used in the process has drawn concerns from residents who worry they could contaminate groundwater, but operators have moved to not disclose the chemicals for proprietary reasons.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission last year adopted new fracking rules that now require energy companies in Colorado to disclose some of the ingredients being used in their fracking fluids.
Tim Rowse, president of the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley, said legitimate concerns remain about fracking, and he hopes the technique's risk can be better determined and mitigated.
"There has been no substantial evidence that proves it's safe and no substantial evidence that proves it's not safe, which means it's an unknown and it carries a certain amount of risk," Rowse said. "I'm not sure that risk is worth the environment. If it does go bad and it does contaminate groundwater, undoing the damage is extremely difficult."
Demystifying the process
Akin said the two speakers he has enlisted to lead Tuesday night's forum will seek to demystify the process.
"Rather than engage in an argument, we're going to start at the beginning and show people how an oil well is drilled and how it is fracked," Akin said. "There will be a lengthy presentation on how this happens."
Akin said former Republican Colorado gubernatorial candidate and U.S. congressman Bob Beauprez, who in January penned an editorial titled "Fracking: The Radical Left's Latest Weapon of Fear" defending fracking and its benefits, will discuss the debate about the process.
John Lamb, president of Steamboat Energy Consultants, will talk about the technical aspects of horizontal drilling and fracking.
Lamb said he has more than 35 years of operations, engineering and geologic experience in the oil and gas industry. He noted Monday that fracking has been used for decades and is becoming increasingly common.
"It's not a new technique at all," Lamb said. "But what is new is the size of the fracturing jobs. Where we were fracturing 10 years ago and using 24,000 gallons of water, we now may use several million gallons of water."
Lamb said he also will discuss a belief of his that may surprise people: that hydraulic fracturing is environmentally friendly.
"Two horizontal wells on the same well site can literally produce as much hydrocarbons as 16 gas wells," he said, adding that such a method calls for fewer roads to be constructed and maintained. "Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing enables us to be efficient and reduce the environmental footprint of the oil and gas industry."
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com