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Citizen concerns about spills, water monitoring, setback distances, adequate inspections and more fueled a wave of legislative efforts this year to tighten fracking regulations. State senator Matt Jones, whose district includes Louisville, Lafayette and a portion of Longmont, says he heard from numerous constituents demanding action.

"These are not people who ever thought they would be in this place," he says. "They don't consider themselves environmentalists. They're people trying to raise their kids, and all of a sudden a rig shows up several hundred yards from their house. They start worrying about their kids' health and their property values. The first guy who called me up in Longmont was a Republican who grew up in western Nebraska. Another was a landscaper who was getting a well drilled 350 feet from his back door. These are middle-class people who are getting shoved into this fight."

Yet most of the bills faced heavy lobbying from COGA and the industry, as well as objections from the COGCC and the Department of Natural Resources — and collapsed in flames or were pruned beyond recognition. A fragment of one of Jones's bills survived, requiring the COGCC to adopt a risk-based strategy that could result in more in-depth inspections, but an effort to dramatically increase the number of inspectors failed. So did a conflict-of-interest bill that would have prevented new members of the commission from being employed by the industry they were supposed to regulate.

So did a bill that would have closed the loophole for water monitoring in the Greater Wattenberg Area. So did an attempt to establish firm minimum and maximum daily fines for violations and end the generous markdown of penalties by the COGCC, which Jones likens to the pricing policy of the Kohl's chain, "where they mark their clothes down by two-thirds and then give you an additional discount."

Given that Democrats now control both houses of the General Assembly, the abject failure of the regulatory reformers on all but the two most innocuous measures may be unprecedented. One state representative says he counted 23 lobbyists, including those from COGA and the Department of Natural Resources, urging lawmakers to vote against the conflict-of-interest bill. Jones says his attempt to increase inspectors also drew a crowd. "There were three lobbyists on one legislator," he says. "It was a swarm."

Schuller suggests that many of the bills were poorly conceived or failed to gather adequate input from industry. "Better outcomes come out of collaboration," she says.

She points out that her membership had agreed in principle to key aspects of the fine bill, including hiking the maximum penalty from $1,000 a day to $15,000, which she regards as a "huge win" for the bill's backers. But sponsors Jones and state representative Mike Foote of Lafayette were adamant about preserving a minimum fine amount, as well: $2,500 a day instead of zero.

"That was the section that was going to change behavior," Foote says. "We've seen that the COGCC hasn't come close to levying maximum fines."

Yet that insistence led to a stalemate, and ultimately to Foote's withdrawing the bill. "They were more interested in the political theater than in having a good outcome," Schuller says. "That's a perfect example of why this session was so disappointing for us."

That's not the way Foote sees it. "Anyone who knows me knows I'm not much into drama," he responds. "I'm a bottom-line kind of guy. I'm into getting things done. But I'm also not going to get a bill passed that doesn't accomplish anything."

Foote takes some solace in the fact that the day his bill died, Hickenlooper issued an executive order directing the COGCC to "re-evaluate its enforcement philosophy" and its approach to fines. "Sometimes progress isn't linear," Foote says. "If the executive order can get us there, I guess that's a good result."

The grassroots concerns about fracking will doubtless bring more bills next year. "Whenever these guys set up rigs outside people's back doors, there's going to be pushback," Jones says. "It's just going to get worse."

*********

When she first accepted the COGA job, Schuller wondered if she might some day be asked to pursue a policy that she found ethically or environmentally unacceptable. If that happened, she told herself, she would simply resign.

That day has never come. Schuller says she's never even considered quitting. Just to make sure she hasn't been co-opted, though, she's developed a sounding board of people outside the industry from whom she seeks advice and input — people like historian Patricia Limerick and Denver Museum of Nature & Science president George Sparks.

Sparks met Schuller at a COGA conference and was impressed by her bridge-building and commitment. "I don't know anyone else who can do what she does," he says. "She's willing to do what's right, even if it puts her at odds with people and causes she grew up with."

Schuller is often accused of being a Pollyanna, but Sparks doesn't consider her optimism about finding solutions to America's energy quandaries to be such a terrible thing. "That's a really important role," he says. "If we can get two sides talking, there's a possibility of finding more commonality than people realize."

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28 comments
Mark897
Mark897

Here is a recent article I just found which attempts to review and address concerns about water use associated with fracking.  It includes links to scholarly articles addressing such concerns.  One takeaway is that fracking probably uses considerably less water than other carbon energy sources, but that local concerns about water consumption in arid regions are quite well founded.  Another is that no definitive research on this particular issue has been reported.

http://theenergycollective.com/jessejenkins/205481/friday-energy-facts-how-much-water-does-fracking-shale-gas-consume

Mark897
Mark897

I just returned from out of town, and was very interested to read your interesting and informative comment.

If it could be established with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that the massive amounts of water from local watersheds or aquifers first polluted through fracking, then eternally sequestered (when no longer recyclable), would be  replaced, or exceeded, by water vapor released through combustion or the release of ancient saline reservoirs (which would not without energy intensive treatment be readily usable for fracking or other purposes), my concerns would be allayed considerably. If you are aware of authoritative research proving this compensatory effect, please let us know.

I am a reasonably well-informed layman, with no particular dog in the hunt.  I do not begrudge people willing to risk massive amounts of capital profiting from making their country more wealthy and secure by supplying it with cheap, abundant energy outside the control of its enemies.  I have many friends in the oil patch, and a considerable part of my modest fortune invested in the oil and gas industry.  I also fully understand the seemingly higher environmental costs of burning "clean coal" instead of natural gas. I think we are better off exploiting both, but do not doubt that gas is cleaner.

Still, I am troubled by permanently removing even relatively small (but quite large, in absolute terms) quantities of our most precious natural resource from our regional supplies to produce a natural resource (produced on a massive scale in other regions with more abundant water supplies) the marginal utility of which does not begin to approach the marginal utility of the water used to produce it here.

Most of the gas produced in the arid West will be burned in the East, or overseas (if liquified). Water vapor thereby released will be widely dispersed globally. Weather patterns being what they are, one would expect the vast majority to return to the earth or oceans thousands of miles to the East, contributing very little to replenishment of our surface supplies here in the West, and even less to the aquifers from which water for fracking is predominantly removed.

Moreover, though the amount of water employed in fracking is relatively small, multiplication of even a very small annual loss times many years of fracking eventually could result in sequestration of more than a minimal quantity, with unknown, unpredictable results. We are not likely to know the extent of the effect until well after it is too late to reverse it. I would therefore rather see us go slow with more fracking in the West until we have established through authoritative research whether its long-term costs in the permanent loss of precious surface and groundwater may vastly outweigh its short-term benefits.

Sierra
Sierra

I find Ms. Schuller's conversion from tree hugger to oil and gas shill to be revolting!  I think this change of heart comes less from a wish to stake out a more pragmatic position than the lure that oil and gas money can have on even the most skeptical among us.  Enjoy your 30 pieces of silver, Tisha, I sure hope your kids won't be drinking this water.

katie676
katie676

This is a good article, however it never brings up the issue of water use in the fracking process.  An average of 5 million gallons of water is used each time.  We have a drought in this state, we are urged to xeriscape, water our lawns less, take fewer and shorter showers and ask for water when we go to restaurants.  How is it that this issue never gets brought up?  We don't have enough water. No matter how you feel about anything else in the fracking debate, Colorado does not have water to spare.  Trying to farm on a large scale in this state is trying, with dust storms out East that take out crops and long term droughts that are likened to the dust bowl.  How are we going to sustain our water supply with increased fracking.  We have less snow pack every year.  Schuller herself did not discuss this issue, but I'm sure she's on a well, maybe when the water table drops lower and she has to redrill the well she'll consider commenting on the issue.  I would very much like to hear her stance on the issue of water and fracking in a semi-arid, moving rapidly to arid, environment along with the effects it will have downstream.

Randy144
Randy144


An interesting article and well written article, as usual.

Has anyone ever figured out why these Fracking Fluid Formulas are so secret?

Here is a theory:

When it turns out, in 2, or 5, or 10 years that these fluids have seriously damaged our ground water, the secrecy will make the chemical signatures of the individual fluids impossible to trace. If we don't know the formula now, we will not be able to identify the perpetrator in the future. The fracking formulas are being kept secret to limit the liability from lawsuits in the future. 

There will be no "smoking fracking fluid" in the future that we can use to identify the oil company that polluted our water and our environment. We won't be able to identify the "ammunition" they used.

Oil companies aren't stupid.

It is simply too logical to be wrong.

If there is any reason more to distrust these companies, like Halliburton, the fact the Do-Nothing Hickenlooper is in support of the process is damning evidence of the power of money.

The "fake" drinking of a green version of fracking fluid is typical, and telling.


Randy Brown

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

The 'Colorado Big Thompson Project' completely explains & diagrams our local water system . This problem CAN be solved BUT these out of state drillers NEED TO PAY !!! It's ALL about how we channel our runoffs and the reservoirs . Since we CAN'T attack these companies federally, why NOT at the state level w/ HUGE taxes and permit costs, MAJOR liability insurance for the residents, and  STRICT MONITORED drilling hole limits ?  In addition, an alternative water source MUST be in place BEFORE drilling in preparation for disasters like what many Coloradan's now face ?

No wonder Weld county wants the hell away from the rest of the state . I'd want clean water too !!!  And 'they' said it was a marijuana issue ........

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

Alan Prendergast IS Denver's finest news and interest writer, period . I share his articles regularly .  If you are reading him for the 1st time, ( trolls ), ARCHIVE HIS WORK !!!

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator topcommentereditor

I'd like to publish some of these comments in our print edition -- ideally with the author's actual name, and without any douchebag references. If you're willing, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com.  



Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

Alan, you have AGAIN written another piece worthy of attention far beyond WW's circulation area !

This should be in ALL the associated publications on their 'covers' as well !

People wonder why I'm an Atheist . It's really rather simple . No father/God would sit back & allow his 'children' to tear up his shit ! ( Earth ) Imagine all the 'Brady kids' being let loose w/ sledge hammers & Mr. Brady sitting back & doing nothing ???

I sometimes envy the dead or those close to . They won't have to witness when we FINALLY figure out how to DESTROY the entire planet . Or at  the VERY LEAST, leave it uninhabitable . Same damn difference  ....

Mark897
Mark897

Here is an excellent analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council that anyone who wants to better understand fracking and its environmental implications would do well to read. It is scientifically well (excuse the pun) founded and sourced.

www.nrdc.org/energy/files/Fracking-Wastewater-FullReport.pdf

Mark897
Mark897

Even if concerns about the toxicity of fracking fluids or the dangers of fracking to household aquifers are exaggerated, there appears to be little dispute that fracking first renders our most precious natural resource, water, unusable for any other purpose, then permanently sequesters it deep underground, whence it will likely never be recoverable. I have yet to see anyone criticize what appears to be this most insanely profligate aspect of fracking in the increasingly arid West.

frackmefrackyou
frackmefrackyou

This bitch can go frack herself. Colorado doesn't need more corporate bootlickers in power.

alanprend
alanprend

@katie676 Thanks for your comments (and for all the other thoughtful readers who weighed in). I did want to point out that the sidebar on fracking fluid (linked at top) does discuss some of the water issues, including the problem of disposing of or treating up to 8 million gallons of contaminated water per frack.

Mark897
Mark897

@Randy144 Virtually no one is allowed by either party to run for office or win appointment to the bench who will not eagerly serve as a sock-puppet for the relative handful of major campaign contributors, including, of course, oil and gas companies, who control both parties.

Alleged environmentalist Democrats Ken Salazar and Tom Strickland have been rewarded for their complaisant "regulation" of Big Oil, including BP during the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, with sinecures at WilmerHale, one of BP's law firms. Partners at WilmerHale earn an average of $1.16 million per year. It should be obvious that quite a few "quid" buy a great many "quos", or is it "hoes"?

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

@patricia.calhoun @westword.com.   Editor : There will be quotes taken from this article & repeated WORD FOR WORD, by Senators in opposition from all over, in front of the U.S. Congress . Excellent work Alan Prendergast and WW !!!

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

@Blayne McMillan  

Uh, you MIGHT wanna consider READING the f'n article . Just a suggestion ....

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

@Mark897   I appreciate those who provide links ! I'm one of those annoying types who likes to read everything before opening my mouth .

SkiVail970
SkiVail970

@Mark897I agree that tougher regulations around wastewater management would be beneficial and I hope both sides can find some common ground on this. On the more general debate around water usage, keep in mind that hydraulic fracturing operations represent a tiny fraction of Colorado’s overall water use (about 0.08% according to a 2012 report by the state agency that regulates water consumption). Golf courses, water parks, lawn sprinklers, etc. all use significantly more water. At lease fracking produces a valuable commodity that we all need (I'd give up golf before I gave up heating my home).

As far as the statement that some fracking wastewater will never be recoverable, that is true; some of the water is disposed in underground injection wells and therefore does not return to the hydrological cycle. One thing that many people don’t realize, however, is that burning natural gas releases CO2 and H2O (in the form of water vapor). According to the U.S. Department of Energy, every pound of methane fuel combusted produces 2.25lbs of water vapor. That equates to roughly 11 million gallons of fresh water produced for every Bcf of gas combusted – water that’s being added to the hydrological cycle where it did not previously exist.

Anyway, just some food for thought.

RedRox44
RedRox44

@frackmefrackyou well you've provided the perfect example of those that are unwilling to participate in civil dialogue and remain respectful. Good job giving real advocates a bad name. 

Mark897
Mark897

@SkiVail970 @Mark897 Thanks again for your response, which was interesting and informative. I responded at length, but it made it to the top of the thread, instead of to the "reply" zone here.

frackmefrackyou
frackmefrackyou

@RedRox44 Frack your whole family, douchebag. "Civil Dialogue" is impossible with an industry dedicated to deception and lies.


Nice try, though.

PeterHenterlinx
PeterHenterlinx

@RedRox44 You will find comments like @frackmefrackyou to be ringing across many circles of the environmental activist movement.  Fractivist, East Boulder County United stalked people to their cars, and many others are driven by emotion, and not science

PeterHenterlinx
PeterHenterlinx

@frackerslieToo bad that study is full of holes:  http://www.energyindepth.org/non-elite-eight-worst-inputs-used-in-new-colorado-health-study/  


Now you're gonna say something along the lines of how energy in depth is an industry group, well try denying their claims that they put forth in that piece.  Oh wait, you can't.  


Also as a testament to how rotten the study was, is that it was presented to Colorado's legislature this year in hopes of inciting unnecessary regulation.  The subcommittee with majority of them democrats threw it out based on how junky that report was.  

Fracker's don't lie, we just tell an inconvenient truth that you don't want to hear, if anything environmentalists lie and then get shut down

frackerslie
frackerslie

@PeterHenterlinx@RedRox44And here is some real SCIENCE, broham:

http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_20210720/cu-denver-study-links-fracking-higher-concentration-air

People living within a half-mile of oil- and gas-well fracking operations were exposed to air pollutants five times above a federal hazard standard, according to a new Colorado study.

The University of Colorado Denver School of Public Health analysis is one of a string of studies in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado that highlight the air-quality impacts of drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

"Our data show that it is important to include air pollution in the national dialogue on natural-gas development that has focused largely on water," said Lisa McKenzie, the study's lead author.


frackerslie
frackerslie

@PeterHenterlinx @RedRox44 

Yeah, I mean how dare all those civil rights activists in the 50s call those opposed to segregation "bigots"? How dare gay rights activists be so rude as to call people opposed to equal marriage rights "homophobes"? Obviously if they use language like that -- so rude, so insulting -- they could never be morally right in their cause.

Unfortunately for you and the rest of the energysuckers, it isn't courtesy or its lack that makes a cause right or wrong. And the science is firm -- fracking fucking sucks. It pollutes the air , water and earth in ways unseen before its advent. So fuck you, fuck the frackers, and fuck Hickenlooper.  Bitch.

 
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