Energy policy — oil and gas: So far there is no evidence that hydraulic fracturing has contaminated water in Larimer or Weld counties

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Bobby Magill has written a primer of sorts on the state of hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas exploration in northern Colorado for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Environmental groups and a federal advisory board, among many other residents in Colorado and across the country, are concerned about the impacts of fracking. The public outcry about fracking and the media attention it has received are the primary reason Gov. John Hickenlooper announced last week that state oil and gas regulators will develop by year’s end a rule requiring oil and gas companies to disclose the full contents of fracking fluid to the public…

Though some companies voluntarily report some of the contents of fracking fluid on the online chemical registry http://www.FracFocus.org, many of the ingredients in fracking fluid are proprietary, and the energy industry has been reluctant to divulge its contents…

…energy companies are using such chemicals to frack nearly all oil and gas wells these days, and there is not yet any evidence that fracking fluids have contaminated drinking water in Larimer County or heavily drilled Weld County, home to thousands of oil and gas wells, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director Dave Neslin said. No water quality complaints tied to oil and gas development have been made in northern Weld or Larimer counties, he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Udall is OK with hydraulic fracturing. Here’s a report from John Colson writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent via the Summit Daily News. From the article:

“I believe it’s a safe technology,” said Udall. “It’s resulted in a lot of home-grown energy being produced.”

But the industry must be careful about maintaining the integrity of well-bore casings once the drilling and fracking has been completed and the gas begins to flow upward, he said. If a casing deteriorates or cracks, Udall said, the result is an increased possibility of contamination of underground water aquifers and wells. In Garfield County, locals believe that is exactly what happened when a local water well, owned by the Dietrich family, located south of Silt, was found to be contaminated by nearby drilling activities in 2004. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) announced last year that, due to continued indications of contamination of area wells, it would renew investigations into the possible link between water well contamination and nearby gas drilling activity.

A separate instance of gas drilling activities polluting local waterways was the Divide Creek Seep case, also in 2004, when chemicals from the gas drilling process were found seeping into the creek. That case lead to a fine of $371,000 levied against the EnCana gas company by the COGCC, and the contamination was blamed on faulty cementing of the well-bore casing.

The New York Times reported on Aug. 3 about another case of alleged contamination of groundwater supplies by nearby fracking of gas wells. The case occurred in 1984 in West Virginia. A report on the case, according to the story, was published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1987. “My office has contacted the EPA concerning this case and we are waiting to hear back from them,” said Udall when asked about the West Virginia case. “The bottom line is that drilling and fracking have to be done right for it to be safe.”

The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Natural Gas Subcommittee released a draft report this week that recommends increases in regulation and greater disclosure. Here’s a report from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

The report comes from the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Natural Gas Subcommittee, which was directed by President Obama to identify any immediate steps that can improve the safety and environmental performance of shale gas drilling. One of the recommendations targets a key concern among environmental advocates by calling for full disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking.

Here’s what the report had to say about disclosure:

“The Subcommittee shares the prevailing view that the risk of fracturing fluid leakage into drinking water sources through fractures made in deep shale reservoirs is remote. Nevertheless the Subcommittee believes there is no economic or technical reason to prevent public disclosure of all chemicals in fracturing fluids, with an exception for genuinely proprietary information. While companies and regulators are moving in this direction, progress needs to be accelerated in light of public concern.”

The report acknowledges growing public concern about shale-gas impacts in this passage:

“There are serious environmental impacts underlying these concerns and these adverse environmental impacts need to be prevented, reduced and, where possible, eliminated as soon as possible. Absent effective control, public opposition will grow, thus putting continued production at risk. Moreover, with anticipated increase in U.S. hydraulically fractured wells, if effective environmental action is not taken today, the potential environmental consequences will grow to a point that the country will be faced a more serious problem. Effective action requires both strong regulation and a shale gas industry in which all participating companies are committed to continuous improvement.”

The report also calls for a reduction in the use of diesel fuel, explaining that there is no technical or economic reason to use diesel fuel in shale gas production, and that diesel engines for surface power should be replaced with natural gas engines or electricity where available.

Finally, the report was received with cautious optimism by Colorado U.S. Representatives Jared Polis and Diana DeGette, according to this report from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

“The subcommittee’s recommendations and its acknowledgement that changes need to be made are certainly a step in the right direction,” said U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder. “However, until legal shortcomings are fixed and voluntary recommendations become actual requirements, communities will remain without real assurance that their air, water and health are adequately protected.”[…]

“I support their call to develop best practices for casing and cementing jobs in fracking operations,” U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, said. “Last year’s BP spill in the Gulf has been largely attributed to faulty casing and cementing, and, as I have repeatedly warned, the consequences of a similar tragedy in an onshore well could be even more catastrophic.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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