Energy policy — oil and gas: Governor Hickenlooper points to transparency to build trust in the hydraulic fracturing debate

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From The Colorado Statesman (Peter Marcus):

The Democratic governor made his comments Aug. 2 during a keynote address at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s annual Energy Epicenter Conference held at the Colorado Convention Center. Hickenlooper himself is an alum of the industry, having worked as a geologist in the 1980s before he ventured into the beer crafting brewing business and later politics. The governor said he would like to see new rules in Colorado that would require the oil and gas industry to disclose ingredients used in the hydraulic fracturing process. But Hickenlooper is not encouraging the disclosure because he thinks the so-called fracking process is dangerous — he believes the public will back off their concerns when they see that the ingredients used in the process, and the process itself, is nothing to worry about in terms of contaminating groundwater.

“Everyone in this room understands that hydraulic fracturing doesn’t connect to groundwater, and we can’t find any chemicals in Colorado… It’s almost inconceivable that we would ever contaminate groundwater through a fracking process, and yet there are reports, not just the New York Times, that have created the impression that this happens and that this is something we should be fearful of,” said Gov. Hickenlooper. “The best way to fight back on that kind of misinformation is to be transparent. To really step out and say this isn’t something that happens, and we’re so confident that this is not going to happen that we’re going to measure before drilling and then after drilling, and we’ll monitor and just clearly demonstrate beyond any possible doubt that this doesn’t happen.”[…]

Environmentalists say they haven’t quite made their minds up yet on Gov. Hickenlooper, hesitant to applaud him following eight appointments he made recently to the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Gov. Hickenlooper has big shoes to fill, considering that former Gov. Bill Ritter was considered to be one the greatest of friends to the state’s environmental community. Following the announcement of the appointments last week, the Colorado Environmental Coalition said, “The jury is still very much out as to whether this set of appointments meets that important standard [of striking the right balance] or whether instead the balance has shifted away from protecting Colorado’s air, water, wildlife and communities from the impacts of drilling.”

The appointments include: Fort Lupton Mayor Tommy E. Holton, John H. Benton, vice president of the Rockies Division of Rex Energy Corp. in Denver, W. Perry Pearce, manager of state government affairs for ConocoPhillips/Burlington Resources, Andrew Lawrence Spielman, chairman of Colorado’s Regional Air Quality Council, Mike King, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources and Dr. Chris Urbina, executive director of the Department of Public Health and Environment. Hickenlooper also reappointed Thomas L. Compton, owner and manager of Compton Cattle Co., and Richard D. Alward, a principal ecologist and environmental scientist at Aridlands Natural Resource Consulting in Grand Junction.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Chet Hardin):

The next day [ed. after Governor Hickenlooper spoke], the New York Times published a story detailing a known incident of well water contamination due to fracking materials.

For decades, oil and gas industry executives as well as regulators have maintained that a drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that is used for most natural gas wells has never contaminated underground drinking water.

The claim is based in part on a simple fact: fracking, in which water and toxic chemicals are injected at high pressure into the ground to break up rocks and release the gas trapped there, occurs thousands of feet below drinking-water aquifers. Because of that distance, the drilling chemicals pose no risk, industry officials have argued.

But there is in fact a documented case, and the E.P.A. report that discussed it suggests there may be more. Researchers, however, were unable to investigate many suspected cases because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners.

This particular incident of contamination occurred in Jackson County, W.Va., in 1984. The Environmental Protection Agency produced a report on the contamination in 1987. You can read it here.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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