EPA fracking finding may figure in state talks

Last-minute negotiations have delayed a possible decision on proposed hydraulic-fracturing-disclosure rules this week by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Meanwhile, some conservation and citizen groups are asking that as the commission considers the rules, it take into account a preliminary Environmental Protection Agency conclusion last week that there is a likely connection between fracking and domestic groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyo.

Mike Freeman, an attorney for Earthjustice, filed a motion on behalf of several groups Friday, arguing the EPA’s draft study findings merit consideration as a response to written testimony by Mike Watts of fracturing-services-provider Halliburton Energy Services Inc. Watts said there is “no substantiated evidence that hydraulic fracturing has ever contaminated underground sources of drinking water.”

The EPA findings also are relevant to questions asked at a hearing Dec. 5 by oil and gas Commissioner Rich Alward, of Grand Junction, “about the extent to which scientific studies have been conducted to look for evidence of such contamination,” Freeman said.

After a daylong hearing Dec. 5, the commission postponed a decision on proposed rules requiring disclosure of substances used in fracking. The matter had been rescheduled for this Monday. However, the agency said Friday it is postponing deliberations until Tuesday to let parties “attempt to resolve the remaining rulemaking issues.”

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said in an e-mail, “All parties have a common desire to negotiate in good faith and a common desire to respond to public concern. And if those common desires lead to needing more time, then we’re OK with that.”

Frank Smith, director of organizing for the Western Colorado Congress, said he is glad to see the state taking more time on the matter, but he is concerned because entities such as his group, local governments and water providers are being excluded from talks.

“Any negotiations ongoing right now may need additional stakeholders at the table for the best results,” he said.

Freeman’s motion said the EPA findings “underscore the value of a rule mandating full disclosure of fracturing chemicals. Requiring companies to disclose these chemicals allows regulators and the public to assess the risk presented by a fracturing treatment, and to more readily determine whether any fracturing-related contamination has occurred.”

Encana Oil & Gas (USA), owner of the wells implicated in the EPA’s study, is disputing the agency’s findings.


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