Energy policy — oil and gas: Governor Hickenlooper announces joint before and after hydraulic fracturing water-sampling effort by the state and producers, the hope is to build trust

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From Platts (Eunice Bridges):

Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said the effort was the first of its kind and was needed to build trust with the public and fight doubts and “paranoia” about the effects of hydraulic fracturing operations. “The best way to fight back on that kind of misinformation is to be transparent … to clearly demonstrate beyond any possible doubt that this doesn’t happen,” he told the Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s Energy Epicenter conference in Denver…

The water sampling effort will be a statewide, voluntary (ed. emphasis mine) program where groundwater samples would be collected by a third-party, with oversight and monitoring by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The department would also hold onto all the sampling data, which would allow it to evaluate trends and water quality, Hickenlooper said. Hickenlooper also said many larger drillers, representing 90% of all the wells set to be drilled in 2011, have already signed up for the program. He said he is hoping for near 100% participation.

COGA initially approached the governor with the idea and has been instrumental in getting companies on board, the governor added. The governor also said such water sampling has been taking place in the San Juan Basin for some time because of the number of shallow wells there and concerns of possible water contamination.

Hickenlooper said news reports on fracking — including recent articles in The New York Times — were full of misinformation and distortions of facts, causing a public mistrust and paranoia about the industry. “This is all hyperbole and anxiety being expressed … and no science here,” he said.

More coverage from The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

Hickenlooper, speaking at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association annual conference, said the goal was to have a rule in place by year’s end for disclosing hydrofracturing fluids. The regulation would help “restore public confidence” in the industry, he said. Eight states — from Pennsylvania to California — have adopted disclosure rules or are considering proposals. The key issue will be whether Colorado ends up with a strong rule, like Wyoming’s, or a weaker one, like Texas’, said Gwen Lachelt, director of the Durango-based Oil and Gas Accountability Project…

State agencies and the Oil and Gas Association announced on Tuesday a voluntary program to test water quality before and after drilling and fracking.
The program is another response to the criticism that fracking may contaminate water, said Tisha Schuller, president of the association. Under the program, water wells of two neighboring property owners will be tested before and after drilling and fracking. Twenty of the largest drillers in the state — who have accounted for 90 percent of the wells drilled this year — have agreed to participate. Tests will be paid for by oil companies, and results will be kept in a database by the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission. The program will start in the fall, and [David Neslin, the director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission] estimated that it will add about 4,000 wells to the state’s groundwater monitoring efforts — almost doubling the number of wells.

In initial talks with the industry, the governor said some companies, particularly smaller ones, saw the proposed rule as “an intrusion in their businesses…We’ve gone a long way to convincing them,” he said. “More and more of the industry sees this as a good thing.” Industry representatives and environmental advocates cautiously endorsed the Hickenlooper administration move. “We are willing to work with the governor on disclosure,” said the [Colorado Oil and Gas Association president Tisha Schuller].

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission already requires companies to disclose their fracking formulas to state regulators and doctors if there is an emergency, but the information is not public…

“Everybody in this room understands that hydraulic fracturing doesn’t connect to the groundwater,” said the Democrat and former petroleum geologist. “It’s almost inconceivable that we would ever contaminate, through the fracking process, the groundwater.” He blamed inaccuracies and misinformation in the media – he named The New York Times three times – for public anxiety about fracking…

Colorado Oil and Gas Association President Tisha Conoly Schuller said she will urge that the new rule build on Frac Focus, a voluntary website that many companies are using to publicly report the content of their fracking fluids. Texas, which has one of the country’s strongest public disclosure laws, requires participation in Frac Focus or a similar website.

More coverage from Ryan Grenoble writing for the Huffington Post. From the article:

Colorado passed regulations in 2008 requiring companies maintain a list of chemicals used in their drilling processes. The list must be presented to healthcare workers and state regulators if requested after a workplace incident…

The HuffPost reported on leaked EPA documents in February which indicated high levels of radioactivity in fracking byproducts. These carcinogens then entered water supplies via sewage treatment plants ill-equipped to remove the chemicals.

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

Colorado conservation groups were buoyed by the governor’s announcement at an industry event, although at least one group said it will “reserve its enthusiasm” until a formal rulemaking process is announced. “We appreciate the governor’s interest in this very serious matter and applaud his fortitude,” Frank Smith of Western Colorado Congress said in an email. “It’s about time. Colorado has over 43,000 active oil and gas wells, with thousands more being planned close to communities and water supplies. As drilling encroaches upon more communities and enters more watershed boundaries, it is encouraging to have the governor state such interest.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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