RIFLE — The national debate over oil and gas development may be most contentious of all in Colorado, a researcher who’s written a book on the subject says.
But Daniel Raimi, who works for the nonpartisan Resources for the Future energy and environment think tank in Washington, D.C., and wrote the book “The Fracking Debate,” also believes governments and industry in the state have been proactive in addressing the controversy through efforts to engage the public.
That’s something he believes is going to only become more important in the future, as disputes increasingly crop up in places they haven’t been seen.
“I think the issues about public concern are only going to get more important over time,” Raimi said Thursday.
He was speaking at the annual Energy & Environment Symposium, presented by Garfield County and Colorado Mesa University’s Unconventional Energy Center.
Raimi has toured the major oil and gas basins in the United States and said he sought in his book to both review the academic research and report on the stories he’s gathered in speaking to people as he covers the issue of hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas development.
Raimi said that generally, views on the issue are more nuanced in the case of people living closer to that development. Farther away from drilling, he said, liberals tend to take a “keep-it-in-the-ground” view, versus a “drill-baby-drill” view by conservatives. But he’s seen things in oil and gas basins that include people frustrated in Pennsylvania because they were affected by a local drilling moratorium that was imposed after gas from drilling got into nearby water wells, and people associated with the industry in Texas opposing drilling near a beloved state park.
He said some of the factors contributing to the high level of controversy in Colorado include the fact that a lot of people move here for amenities like outdoor recreation, not expecting to have oil and gas wells nearby. On the Front Range, conflicts arise from dense populations of people close to production, and people may question how much the industry is needed in an area that already is growing, Raimi said.
He said “focusing events,” like the imposition of local fracking bans and last year’s home explosion in Firestone that killed two people and was caused by gas in an abandoned flow line from a nearby well, heighten scrutiny of the industry.
In Colorado and nationally, concerns revolve around everything from lights and noise to environmental and climate impacts of oil and gas development, along with questions of what health impacts might result from living near drilling, Raimi said. He said no studies on the latter subject are conclusive, but some provide cause for concern, and the subject warrants more research. Regardless of what the research says, the concerns will continue to persist, he said.
“It’s something we’ll have to be wrestling with and thinking about, trying to understand what the evidence actually tells us,” Raimi said.
In the meantime, Raimi believes measures taken in Colorado, from the creation of a statewide task force, to the use of community oil and gas liaisons, to energy companies reaching out to communities, to forums such as the one this week in Rifle, are the types of stakeholder engagement that is needed.
“So, kudos to you for being so proactive on that front,” he said.