Fracking study gets House OK

DENVER — The Colorado House approved a controversial bill Thursday that some Republicans believe is designed to give opponents of hydraulic fracturing fodder to ban the practice in the state.

But one Republican, Rep. Jared Wright, isn’t one of them.

The Fruita legislator was the only Republican to vote for the measure, saying he believes, and hopes, the result of any study will prove the opposite.

“I think it’s always a good idea to have a study, in this case a peer review, a scientific-based study that looks at those issues to make sure that we’re going down the right path,” Wright said. “I join with my (GOP) colleagues anytime we have any sort of government study, or anytime frankly the government does much of anything, you always have the concern that it’s being done right. However, I did read this bill in-depth and I feel like it’s well laid-out, and I think it’s certainly the intention that it’s done the right way.”

The measure, HB1297, cleared the House on a 38-27 vote. It calls for a study of the health and “quality of life” impacts of hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells.

Although the bill, which heads to the Senate for more debate, confines that study to six Front Range counties around the Denver metropolitan area, it is seen by some Republicans as a plan by Democrats to slant it to be anti-fracking.

Knowing that they had little power to kill the bill, Wright’s GOP colleagues on Wednesday tried to amend it to be more of a scientific study, and keep proponents of an anti-fracking ban off the scientific advisory committee that is to oversee the study, which is to be done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

All that failed, but its sponsor, Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, did alter the bill to make the panel a 16-member committee, only eight of which would have voting rights. Those people are to be experts in such things as medicine, epidemiology, toxicology, behavioral or social science and public and environmental health.

Additionally, the non-voting members must include someone from the oil and gas industry, the environmental community, an economist, a statistician and three representatives of the public who live within the six counties involved: Boulder, Larimer, Weld, Adams, Arapahoe and Broomfield.

They are all to be appointed by Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director of the department. The $700,000 study also is to take two years to conduct, but will begin by surveying the public about possible issues, which is to be done by December.

“We want to know that we’re not just blindly going forward with technology. That we do it the right way,” Wright said. “I believe it can be done the right way, and frankly, I don’t have a doubt that it is being done the right way. I think the results of this study will be that our operators are doing their jobs and doing it in the careful way that we ask them.”

Currently, there are no proposed ballot measures that call for an outright statewide ban on fracking, but there are several that would restrict its use. None have yet qualified for the fall ballot.

Last year, five cities banned it within their borders: Longmont, Broomfield, Fort Collins, Lafayette and Boulder. Longmont’s ban still is the subject of a suit filed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.


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