Steve Lewis: Is fracking safe?
February 7, 2012
A recent Denver Post editorial ("A better way to address drilling," Feb. 5) dismissed fears of groundwater contamination from fracking as meritless and speculative. Fears have merit if they are connected with vulnerability, and let's face it, U.S residents who live near fracking operations have every right to feel defenseless. The fracking process occurring in their backyards is exempt from the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. A simple rebuttal to the Denver Post editorial is this: If fracking is safe, why do we find it impossible to rescind fracking's exemptions from these acts of Congress?
Consider that the Denver Post reported there were more than 1,000 spills statewide and more than 230 in Garfield County reported to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission between January 2008 and June 2010. There were 21 fires, loss of well control (including gas kicks) and explosions in Garfield County that were reported to the COGCC from January 1997 to August 2010. Does it make any sense that COGCC regulations do not require operators of these wells to place groundwater quality monitoring wells beside their oil and gas wells? Does it make any sense to bar a county from setting well setback distances according to its own concerns?
There are dozens of such shortcomings in COGCC regulations. Counties are forced to negotiate many of them with each drilling applicant. The "patchwork of regulations" Gov. John Hickenlooper would avoid already is here. The real problem is that the COGCC regulations are a setback to local governments trying to fully protect their residents, air and water.
Are these concerns speculative? Frankly, I find it unfathomable that the state of Colorado's only answer to the fears of its residents is regulation and legislation that have no foundation in science and certainty. Why should we hasten our commitment to fracking without scientific study in place to show it is safe? What health and groundwater study of fracking impacts can the Denver Post or our governor point to?
In March 2005, EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley found enough evidence of potential mishandling of the 2004 EPA hydraulic fracturing study to justify a review. The EPA's new study of fracking will have preliminary findings this year and a full report in 2014. A 2011 draft report of the Garfield County Health Impact Assessment presented plenty of reason for concern, and rather than document the full extent of the concern, Garfield County canceled the study. Hickenlooper should fund the completion of that study. If he will not fund the study completion, then Colorado Counties Inc. should do it for him.
Claims against fracking are meritless and speculative? Prove this to the Colorado residents you are asking to live beside it. Colorado counties and cities that wish to move ahead with fracking's risks on the COGCC's terms should be allowed to do so. Similarly, those that prefer to go slower and use the coming EPA fracking study and other studies to more carefully protect their residents, their air and their water should be allowed to do so.
Again, the central question I pose to the Denver Post and Hickenlooper: If fracking is safe, why have we not rescinded its exemptions from the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act?