Environmental groups cite study to halt fracking
Oil and gas development in Colorado has generated 2.2 billion gallons of wastewater and 23 million tons of global-warming pollution since 2005, according to a report released Thursday that seeks to quantify the impacts of hydraulic fracturing and calls for an end to its use.
The report “Fracking by the Numbers” was released by Environment America and, in Colorado, by Environment Colorado. It also estimates that over that same time frame, 26 billion gallons of water were used for fracking-related oil and gas activities in the state and 57,000 acres were damaged in the state by road-clearing, well pad construction, pipeline corridors and related drilling activities. In 2012 alone, fracking-related activities created 38,150 tons of air pollution in Colorado, the report said.
While the report focuses on hydraulic fracturing — the high-pressure injection of fluids underground to produce oil and gas — it says it includes impacts from all the activities needed to bring fracked wells into production, operate the wells and deliver oil and gas to market.
The report cites problems such as leaks of wastewater from pits contaminating groundwater and farmers having to compete with deep-pocketed energy firms for scarce water supplies. It says that given the size and severity of fracking’s impacts, fracking prohibitions are warranted because it seems implausible that regulations could sufficiently protect the environment and public health.
“The bottom line is this: the numbers on fracking add up to an environmental nightmare,” said Lindsey Wilson, field associate for Environment Colorado, in a news release. “For public health and our environment, we need to put a stop to fracking.”
Todd Hartman, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said drilling, hydraulic fracturing and producing from an oil and gas well are all highly regulated processes in Colorado, “a state that has served as a national model for strong oversight of oil and gas development.”
The state has continued updating regulations and industry oversight for six years running, he said.
“We continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure this important industry — one that develops products that drive our economy and that we all depend on in our daily lives — functions in a matter that shows the highest regard for public health, safety and our environment,” he said.
He said it’s important to note that hydraulic fracturing is a standard part of developing the majority of wells in Colorado and nationwide.
Doug Flanders of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association said the report “relies heavily on discredited science, inaccurate assumptions and definitions, and manipulated figures to reveal these groups’ true agenda: to ban all oil and gas development in Colorado. Banning oil and gas development prevents 111,000 Coloradans and their families from working, removes $1.6 billion in annual public revenue to our state and communities, hurts our most vulnerable with higher energy costs, and dirties our air due to less natural gas use for electricity generation.”
Simon Lomax, research director with the pro-industry group Energy In Depth, said, “Scientists, engineers, state regulators, federal officials and even senior members of the Obama administration have repeatedly found that hydraulic fracturing is a fundamentally safe technology that’s been used safely for more than 60 years.”
The report relies on estimates and extrapolations for many of its numbers, but it says many of its estimates are conservative, and it cites a need for more complete data.
Its global-warming estimates relate to methane and says that nationwide, completion of fracked wells produced pollution equal to 100 million metric tons of carbon since 2005.
It says water used for fracking in Colorado since 2005 “was enough to meet the water needs of nearly 200,000 Denver households for a year.”
State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, said she doesn’t think a fracking ban is the way to solve health, safety and environmental problems.
Rather, she said, it’s important to work with the industry to ensure that best practices are being followed by all companies.
“Oil and gas is critical, it’s critical to our economy, and it can be done safely in a way that doesn’t have negative impacts … and all the responsible operators are already doing that,” she said.