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Gas-drilling oversight bill killed by the House: What's the fracking point?

A bill that sought to increase the reporting process for water-quality complaints related to oil and gas drilling in Colorado died quietly at the statehouse yesterday, with Republican lawmakers insisting that the industry's use of hydraulic fracturing fluids, or "fracking," poses no threat to groundwater. But the measure also drew heat from the other side of the aisle for not going far enough to protect citizens from the mysterious, highly toxic fluids energy companies use to extract oil and gas.

The proposal put forth by Representative Roger Wilson, a Western Slope Democrat, was certainly modest enough. House Bill 1172 would have required the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission to make regular reports to the legislature concerning the complaints it receives regarding drilling operations in the state, a reporting process that was dropped last year. It would also have required the COGC and the state health department to review an upcoming EPA study of the effects of fracking and report back on its findings -- kind of like a homework assignment for bureaucrats.

But other lawmakers didn't see much point in all this relaying of complaints and studies. To the drill-baby-drill crowd, Wilson's bill seems superfluous; to those who suspect there might be problems with fracking contamination, a bland absolution from the oil and gas commission wouldn't be persuasive in any case.

Some western states have taken a more aggressive stance toward fracking, which has been vilified in Vanity Fairand the activist documentary Gasland. Last fall, Wyoming became the first state to require drilling companies to disclose what's in the proprietary blend of chemicals they pump into the ground to force gas and oil to the surface.

Industry representatives maintain that there's no solid evidence that the fracking process itself has contaminated groundwater (though there are documented cases of surface spills involving the fluids). But they're not eager to talk about the chemicals involved, either.

As for the EPA study and the complaints logged with the oil and gas commission -- lawmakers can still read about such things on their own, even if no one is formally assigning the homework.

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