Rift among stakeholders could spill over to legislative session
By Peter Marcus – THE COLORADO STATESMAN – December 14, 2012
The debate over whether state regulators can responsibly govern hydraulic fracturing is leaving few parties satisfied — causing a rift between regulators themselves, the governor’s office, legislators and environmental and industry stakeholders. The upcoming legislative session, as a result, is likely going to offer heated disagreements over the growing conversation, including bills that compete with state rulemaking.
The most recent frustration stems from daylong hearings held on Monday and Tuesday by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC.) The commission has proposed requiring setbacks of 350 feet between wells and occupied buildings. No final decisions are likely until early January, around the time when the legislative session begins on Jan. 9.
For environmentalists, the proposed rule change does not go far enough; for industry supporters, requiring the setback is either unnecessary, or deserves a more comprehensive analysis than simply setting distance.
But in the end, the issue is about safety. Hydraulic fracturing employs the pressure of a fluid — often times including chemicals, sand and water — to increase extraction rates. Concerns have grown that water can become contaminated, especially as the process has made its way to the heavily populated Front Range. There are also noise, congestion, air pollution and resource fears.
While environmentalists say they have dozens of documented cases of health impacts associated with the practice, the industry has maintained that for the past 50 years fracking has been done safely, and that there has never been a documented case with the state health department of fracking causing groundwater contamination. Regardless, safety contention has fueled the dialogue.
“The… status quo proposal giving only a 350-foot buffer — less than two city blocks — between homes, schools, business and drilling and fracking is not acceptable and fails to address Coloradans’ understandable concerns about the sharp ramp up of heavy industrial activity in their communities,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado.