What The Frack? Taking A Stance on Fracking in Colorado
One of the most controversial debates to surface in recent years has been that surrounding fracking. As surface-level oil and gas stores become further depleted, fracking has risen to prevalence, particularly in Colorado. The term fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, which is the process of extracting oil and natural gas from rock in the ground by blasting it with high-pressure liquid. Fracking allows for the extraction of oil and gas from difficult-to-reach locations and contributes significantly to oil and gas demands in the United States, as well as across the globe. The controversy of the subject has created a vehemently polarized debate, so here’s what you need to know to take a stance on the issue.
Oil and gas essentially allow the world to function the way it does; they are used to heat buildings, create electricity, power cars, and manufacture plastic and products people use on a daily basis. Oil and gas are an integral part of society and petroleum, the refined version of oil, is the largest source of energy in the US economy.
COGA is intended to be the regulatory body for oil and gas in Colorado and engages in rule and policy making for the entire industry. Jake Taylor, the Communications and Research Coordinator from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, or COGA, talked about exactly this:
“Oil and natural gas is an integral part of our everyday lives, and it’s not only the gasoline we put in our cars or the natural gas that heats our homes or businesses, but it’s also a fundamental building block that exists in countless products we all use, from medical supplies and construction materials to smartphones and clothing,” Taylor said. “Oil and natural gas provides reliable and affordable energy we use every day.”
Fracking allows for the oil and gas in difficult-to-reach places to be extracted from the ground, increasing the supply of oil available for manufacturing and refining. The technology of fracking allows society to prolong oil and gas as available resources and utilize the amount present on the Earth to its full capacity.
Taylor warns of overregulation and what that could do to the Colorado economy and industry as a whole:
“We would regress to relying on imports from countries where similar protections and regulations that protect our air, water, and lands do not exist... The health and safety of Colorado residents and oil and natural gas employees is this industry’s top value.”
With the increased availability of oil and gas, manufacturing and production of items people use on a daily basis can increase. The more resources there are to create something, the more of the final product can be created. Increasing the amount of different items that are being produced lowers the cost of that item, making everyday items more affordable. This, however, is not the reality for many places across the globe. Specifically in Colorado, fracking and the products created from it allow for the state to gain both revenue and resources to produce goods and power the economy.
“We also can’t forget about the more than 1 billion people across the globe who don’t yet have access to reliable and affordable energy,” said Taylor.
A significant amount of the pushback against fracking lies with the environmental concerns it brings when removing notable amounts of organic material from the ground and the chemicals that are involved in doing so.
“One would be hard-pressed to find an industry that employs more environmental management experts than the oil and natural gas industry. Scientists, engineers, geologists and other leaders in Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry work year after year to improve upon some of the highest environment protection standards in the nation,” said Taylor.
Fracking is often cited as a major cause of climate change and is a point of contention among environmental activists in Colorado.
“This dual concern must be faced: addressing global climate change while not ignoring those who suffer from energy poverty. That is an incredibly difficult challenge, and we will only overcome that challenge by working together,” Taylor said.
While fracking was initially seen as an innovative and environmentally sound alternative to traditional methods of oil and gas drilling, the local impacts have appeared to speak otherwise, in many cases marring the environmental landscape of an area otherwise known for its family- friendliness.
The liquid used in the process, known as frack fluid, consists of a mixture of water and other chemicals. As the fluid is pumped into the shale, or deep rock, it becomes further polluted by naturally existing radioactive material beneath the soil. Over time, this adulterated liquid returns to the surface, running off into rivers and streams which then contaminate local sources of clean drinking water. Not only does fracking contribute to such pollution, but it additionally uses vast quantities of water. In Colorado, this heavy use further depletes the already low water resources in what has long been considered a drought state.
Fracking has also contributed to health concerns in areas located close to operations, particularly in the Wildgrass and Anthem neighborhoods in North Broomfield. Residents have noticed prominent odors and noise since the advent of operations near their homes, along with difficulty breathing and sleeping. Although the industry has in some instances been obligated to respond to noise complaints, the response of hay bales and sound walls often fails to adequately reduce noise.
Jennifer Dulles, founder of the fracking education group Broomfield Concerned, spoke on the consequences of hydraulic fracturing, both acute and long term:
“Really when you talk about odors, when you smell things, people can say ‘Oh, that just smells bad,’ but that’s really a chemical exposure. What’s happening is there are VOCs [volatile organic compounds] that are being released from the facilities.”
Dulles additionally stressed the formation of cancer clusters in areas such as rural Pennsylvania with a history of fracking. While the causal relationship between such cancers and fracking has not been determinately established, Dulles added that Broomfield residents do not wish to be experiments in their own homes.
Although fracking has come to be considered one of the leading energy sources for Colorado’s future, it is important to recognize that alternatives still exist. Renewable sources such as solar power and the switch to a fully electrical grid present more environmentally sustainable options.
“I think that’s just going to continue to be a driver for everyone, is to onboard new technologies that make renewable way more affordable, and make a whole lot more sense,” Dulles said.
Companies such as Xcel energy have been working with scientists to gradually convert the grid to electric. With a variety of scientists and industry specialists collaborating to find innovative solutions, sustainable options appear increasingly within reach.
In addition to the health cost of fracking, it has also proven expensive to taxpayers. Broomfield residents have invested heavily in the preservation of open spaces, only to realize that their tax dollars are going towards industry subsidies and the setting aside of land which will eventually be used for well pads.
Despite resident concern, Dulles noted that this process falls within current legal bounds. Drilling activities are legally permitted to take place in local open spaces, as well as in state and national parks, particularly as the Bureau of Land Management has rolled back regulations under the Trump administration.
“We’ve been shocked in Broomfield to learn that our open space can be used for fracking, and most people are unaware still, across the state, that this is something that goes on. But it’s really unfortunate when taxpayers are paying money to set aside open space for trails and those types of uses, and then to find out that the oil and gas industry can come in and set up shop on top of open space,” Dulles said.
While fracking was initially justified through the anticipation of heavy regulation, Dulles explained that the COGCC, or Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been largely relaxed as a regulatory body.
“They’re not filling out those forms, so I think we just find turn and turn and time and time again that there’s no effective oversight of the industry. They’re largely left to police themselves, and that’s not a very effective manner of industry oversight. You can’t let the industry just report itself and oversee itself.”
Given that fracking companies are largely failing to file production reports, local governments are unable to collect the full sums of money due to them as a condition of opening their cities to fracking operations.
Although recent legislative measures such as SB181 have begun providing greater empowerment to local governments, the impacts of fracking on the health of the environment, citizens, and governments remain ever-evolving.