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Steve Lewis: Clean up their act

It is good to see forums and symposiums addressing oil and gas development in Routt County. There is a continuing position that everything is fine — there is no real problem and we just need to get beyond the misinformation. The moderator of one forum said as much: "The fear (of oil and gas) and being nervous about it is going to subside" as we get more answers. I take the opposite position. There are serious problems and the industry needs to clean up its act. This recent letter from the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action is important in this regard:

Information obtained on March 8 from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) indicates that hundreds of spills and releases are reported to the state each year, with a statewide total of 3,966 since the year 2000.

Additionally, the number of spills and releases has been increasing throughout time — in 2002 there was a 12-year low of 193; in 2010 and 2011, there were nearly 500 per year.  Compared to the year 2000, spills/releases increased by 90.6 percent in the year 2011.

"The public needs to know the facts about the threat that drilling and fracking poses to our communities," said Shane Davis, of the Sierra Club. "Not only are chemicals spilled and released, the majority of that chemical pollution is never recovered or cleaned up."

An earlier detailed analysis by the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action revealed that more than 40 percent of the 1,000 spills/releases reported in Weld County between 2003 and 2012 contaminated groundwater and nearly 3 percent contaminated surface water, and a random sample of 6 percent of 1,000 reports suggested that as many as 1.75 million gallons of spilled/released fluids was never "recovered." Spilled/released fluids includes "oil," "produced water" and "other" as reported to the COGCC.

There are real problems, and awareness is increasing as new information comes in. The Colorado Independent reports that "Boulder County, Longmont and Colorado Springs have temporarily halted drilling activity. Commerce City, Erie and Aurora, Arapahoe County, Douglas County, Elbert County and El Paso County have all either considered or are considering enacting their own drilling laws." It is disingenuous to suggest these new efforts across Colorado are based on misinformation. The problems are real and based in fact. NOAA air quality findings detail the problems are not limited to water quality. NOAA research chemist Steven Brown reported that Erie has 10 times more propane in its air than Los Angeles has and several times the level found in Houston (Boulder Daily Camera, Feb. 21, 2012).

There are answers for resolving these issues. Those answers require, among other measures, that the oil and gas industry provide closed loop systems, comprehensive water quality protection measures and capture of lost methane and VOC now allowed to leak or be flared as "waste."

Let's move beyond denial and into the realm of making this work, cleanly and safely, for everyone.

Steve Lewis

Steamboat Springs