Hickenlooper backs ‘fracking,’ with caveat

He urges firms to give fluid info

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday defended the use of hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas development in Colorado but renewed his call for companies to disclose the substances in the fluids used in the process.

“For the life of me I can’t figure out why they won’t reveal those,” he said as he took his state economic development tour to Glenwood Springs.

Hickenlooper’s call for disclosure, which he also voiced during last year’s campaign for governor, came in response to a question from John Traul, who worries about reports that the practice may threaten water supplies in places like Pennsylvania and New York.

“We have a right to know what we’re going to breathe and what we’re going to drink,” Traul said.

But Hickenlooper, a geologist by training, said drilling in Colorado usually is different from Pennsylvania and New York. Wells are shallower and closer to groundwater in those states, whereas wells here usually are 6,000 feet deep, far below domestic groundwater, he said. Impermeable shale protects that groundwater from drilling zones, he said. And high pressures in those zones result in 95 to 97 percent of the fracturing fluids injected into wells returning to the surface, he said.

“I don’t think we have to worry about the frack job itself causing a problem,” he said.

But Hickenlooper said careless operators still can cause problems, such as leaks of fracking wastewater at the surface.

“If they keep doing it, we should raise the fines. At some point it will get their attention,” he said.

Fracturing fluids generally consist of water and sand, with small proportions of other substances, which can include toxic chemicals. Some energy service companies have kept some contents of fracturing fluid confidential for proprietary reasons.

Hickenlooper said if a company as protective of its secret formula as Coca-Cola nonetheless puts its ingredients on the bottle, energy companies should be able to reveal the ingredients used in fracturing. That would make environmentalists a lot more comfortable with the practice, he said.

Hickenlooper said that with the state facing a budget crisis and people struggling and unable to afford tax increases, the only solution is to be pro-business, such as by cutting permitting times for oil and gas companies. But it’s also important to protect the state’s lands and waters, he said.

“We can be pro-business and still hold ourselves to the highest levels of accountability,” he said.



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