Conservation groups challenge Gov. Hickenlooper’s claim that there has been no groundwater contamination from drilling or fracking operations since 2008
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — All things related to oil and gas drilling in Colorado seem to be complicated, and the latest flap over a public service announcement by Gov. John Hickenlooper is no exception.
In the ad, posted on the Colorado Oil & Gas Association website, Hickenlooper makes a flat-out claim that there hasn’t been any groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing since 2008. You can listen to Hickenlooper’s message here.
The message touted Colorado’s new oil and gas drilling regulations which are intended to protect the environment as well as to give industry regulatory certainty. The context of the message was to advertise Colorado as open for the oil and gas business business, but the problem is that Hickenlooper’s statement is not completely accurate or truthful.
In fact, there have been dozens of documented cases of groundwater contamination in the state since 2008 from leaky pipes, corroded tanks and other problems that are common in any industrial setting.
“There are spills on a weekly basis that affect groundwater,” said Earthjustice attorney Mike Freeman, adding that state records show there were 58 spills from oil and gas operations in 2011.
“The first step is admitting we have a problem,” Freeman said. “It’s safe to say, the disclosure rules are not preventing drilling operations from contaminating water,” he said, adding that the state’s rules are only a first step toward ensuring environmental protection. “The state’s own records show that spills and releases routinely affect ground water. Statements like those in the COGA ad will only hurt the state’s efforts to show it is responsive to legitimate concerns about and gas development in Colorado communities.”
More measures are needed, including increased setbacks from waterbodies and a robust groundwater monitoring program in addition to the industry’s voluntary monitoring, Freeman said.
In response to the ad, 13 environmental groups sent Hickenlooper a letter expressing dismay over the claim.
“We are disappointed that the Governor lent his voice to a trade association advertisement that fails to tell the full story and leaves Coloradans with a false sense of security when it comes to groundwater contamination,” said Elise Jones, executive director of Colorado Environmental Coalition. “The unmistakable takeaway message from the ad is ‘don’t worry, everything is ok’ when it comes to water and oil and gas exploration.
“That is not the case. There are numerous documented cases of groundwater contamination since 2008. We should all be able to agree that there is more to be done to protect our air, land, and water from drilling,” she said.
Governor Hickenlooper’s deputy communications director Megan Castle acknowledged that there have been some spills and releases associated with oil and gas drilling operations, and that they have affected shallow groundwater.
“With the conservation community’s help, we crafted the toughest disclosure rule in the country. That was the larger point made in the ads,” Castle said. “Being a pro-business state also means holding ourselves to the highest environmental standards. That’s been a consistent message of our administration from the first day and we mean to keep it that way.
“It is certainly true that spills and releases associated with equipment failures at drilling sites have occurred and have impacted shallow ground water,” Castle said. “That’s a very different process from drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Equipment failures at the surface of drilling sites are the exception, but when they occur we take them very seriously, require they be reported, and quickly cleaned up,” she said.
According to the conservation groups, groundwater in Colorado has been contaminated by petroleum liquids and produced water used and generated during drilling and hydraulic fracturing, documented in a report from the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission. Accidental spills, corroded tanks and pipelines, and leaking containment pits have been implicated in numerous releases of toxic fluids, including carcinogenic hydrocarbons such as benzene.
“Gov. Hickenlooper did the right thing last fall in leading the effort to bring transparency to industry’s use of fracking chemicals,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters. “He understood that full disclosure will allow us to make smart decisions about how to protect our world class environment when oil and gas drilling occurs.
“Given his support of transparency and full disclosure, it was particularly dismaying to hear such a misleading ad on the air,” Maysmith said. “The good news is that the governor is a ‘fix-it’ leader. We urge him to get the misleading ad withdrawn and to redouble his commitment to protecting Colorado’s water resources and communities.”
Filed under: Colorado, energy, Environment, gas drilling, oil drilling, water Tagged: | Colorado Conservation Voters, energy, Environment, groundwater, hydraulic fracturing, John Hickenlooper, water pollution