Colorado: Battle brewing over fracking rules

Community groups, water providers and local governments say early disclosure of fracking chemicals protects water quality, public health

Natural gas development near Rulison, Colorado. PHOTO COURTESY SKYTRUTH UNDER A CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Citizens groups, water providers and local governments are making a strong push to strengthen state rules on the disclosure of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process (fracking).

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Dec. 5 will hear public testimony on the proposed regulations, and a coalition of groups will challenge the rule, saying that it doesn’t adequately protect public health or public water supplies.

One of the biggest problems is that the commission doesn’t require disclosure of the fracking chemicals until  60 days after the fracking operation is complete.

Current regulations allow local governments to comment on drilling permits that they believe may risk public health. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is required to review drilling applications proposed in public drinking water supply areas and propose additional protections needed to protect water quality.

However, under the proposed fracking rule, the local governments and health department will not even be notified that the well is going to be fracked, or what chemicals will be used.

“The COGCC is asking for local government input on drilling proposals, but not letting them know what is being proposed,” said Tresi Houpt, a former Garfield County Commissioner and former member of the oil and gas conservation commission. “If toxic chemicals are proposed for use in water supply areas, or near homes, local government health departments must have that information,” she said.

Water providers are also concerned about the lack of up-front disclosure.

“Water and waste water management entities need to be aware of the chemicals being used. Pre-disclosure would benefit water utilities and the environment,” said water treatment engineer Jim Miller, a member of the Colorado Water Utility Council.

The Colorado Water Utility Council has formally intervened in the COGCC rulemaking, requesting disclosure of the chemicals contained in fracking fluid at the well-permitting stage. The council represents Colorado water utilities responsible for providing drinking water to over 80 percent of Colorado residents.

Some  water providers have worked with local jurisdictions to pass ordinances that help protect local water supplies. Grand Junction and Palisade, for example, have watershed protection ordinances that require the full disclosure of hydraulic fracturing in order to receive a permit to drill an oil or gas well in the watershed. Grand Junction also requires the use of green (non-toxic) hydraulic fracturing materials if drilling occurs in its watershed.

But most watersheds do not have these local protections — that’s why a statewide rule is needed, according to Frank Smith, a community organizer with the Western Colorado Congress.

 “Emergency responders need to know upfront what’s being brought into their jurisdiction before a hydraulic fracking event occurs, because they will be the ones responding to an accident, not the operators. It’s just common sense,” said Shanna Koenig, with the Northwest Council of Government’s Water Quality/ Quantity Committee.

“State and local public health agencies should have the opportunity to monitor and address potential risks to air and water quality before they result in life-threatening emergencies,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards.

Other states in the Rocky Mountain region require disclosure at the well permitting stage. Wyoming and Montana require the information to be submitted before drilling.  New Mexico and Idaho have proposed rules that will also require the information to be submitted as part of the initial well permit.

As part of an economic push by Gov. Hickenlooper, the state is trying to finalize its rule by the end of the year.

“To us, that’s a little too quick of a meaningful process that considers the myriad of concerns with fracking,” Smith said.


One thought on “Colorado: Battle brewing over fracking rules

  1. A little too quick….yes, it truly is. Of course, if there were buckets of $$$$ involved from the county’s, instead of just from the drillers/companies, then perhaps the laws requiring the ingredients in this witches brew would reflect a more population orientating slant. Besides, the rush is on because of the up coming election season, donations to the pacs, etc.

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