New website reveals Colorado fracking chemicals

By David O. Williams
Real AspenApril 13, 2011
Colorado oil and gas regulators are touting a new website, which debuted yesterday, that allows operators to voluntarily register chemicals used in the controversial but commonly used process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), under revised oil and gas drilling regulations that went into effect in 2009, already requires operators to disclose fracturing chemicals if requested by state regulators or by health professionals.

The new website, developed by Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, will provide public access to those chemicals.

The website can be found at www.fracfocus.org.

Fracking involves injecting chemicals — largely undisclosed for proprietary reasons – water and sand deep into natural gas wells to fracture tight geological formations and thereby free up more gas. It is in widespread use, and industry officials say it occurs so far underground that groundwater supplies are never really in danger.

Critics of the process, including U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis (both Colorado Democrats), say it has led to drinking water contamination and that the chemicals used in fracking should be fully disclosed to the public. State regulators oppose federal oversight of fracking by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The new website appears to be one more step aimed at avoiding that possibility.

“We have actively supported this effort to make hydraulic fracturing information more accessible to the public, and we applaud the many Colorado operators who are participating,” Dave Neslin, director of the COGCC, said in a release announcing the new site on Thursday. “We think this will be a useful tool for citizens as well as an important step for industry in its efforts to better educate the public about energy development.”

Neslin in the past has said he thinks DeGette and Polis’s FRAC (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals) Act, which would remove a 2005 Safe Drinking Water Act exemption granted during the Bush administration, is unnecessary.

Groundwater Protection Council Executive Director Mike Paque said in a release that he expects a “significant majority” of operators conducting fracturing in Colorado to participate in the voluntary website. “Although we have had terrific participation from many states, the COGCC has been in the forefront and helped our team brief congressional committees and federal agencies on the registry’s potential value to the public,” Paque said. The website will only contain information for wells drilled after Jan. 1 of this year.

Neslin maintains the COGCC has never documented any cases of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater in the state. However, the agency is looking into possible diesel fuel contamination. A congressional probe found widespread use of diesel fuel in fracking all over the United States and in Colorado – an apparent violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“Although the COGCC believes that its regulations should have prevented the contamination of drinking water supplies from the use of diesel fuel or other substances for hydraulic fracturing, it is currently collecting information on the use of diesel fuel for this purpose and will assess whether this activity affected drinking water,” the COGCC said in a release.

Meanwhile, Republican state lawmakers are seeking to increase industry participation on the COGCC board via House Bill 1223 (pdf), which passed out of the House Agriculture Committee on Monday and is now being weighed by the House Appropriations Committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Ray Scott and Sen. Steve King, both Grand Junction Republicans, HB 1223 would add two more industry seats to the COGCC board and make representatives of the Department of Natural Resources and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment non-voting members. In 2007, during the administration of Gov. Bill Ritter, the COGCC board was expanded to include community stakeholders and environmental and public health representatives.

“I want to know that the people creating the rules for oil and gas development have considered the impacts to Western Slope residents like me and that our public health and property are protected,” said Dave Devanney, a Battlement Mesa resident and member of Battlement Concerned Citizens (BCC). “Adding more industry to the COGCC doesn’t sound like an effort to protect public health, safety or welfare.”

Devanney has said that decreasing concern by state and county officials about the impacts of natural gas drilling on Western Slope communities is driving grassroots activism and potential litigation. Battlement Mesa and Silt residents have been in contact with a New York City law firm looking into potential mass torte litigation against Denver-based Antero Resources.

That firm and the Aspen-based law firm of Thomas Genshaft are currently representing at least one Silt-area family, and now another New York firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, is meeting with potential litigants today at 1 p.m. at the Battlement Mesa Activity Center community room.


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