Industry leader caught making inaccurate statements about oil and gas drilling impacts to groundwater
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The public relations war over recent statements by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and oil and gas industry officials continued this week, as community activists pointed out yet another misleading and inaccurate statement about the impacts of fossil fuel development.
This time, the president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association was under the gun for a statement she made to the Denver Post about groundwater pollution. In the Feb. 28 story, Tisha Schuller was quoted as saying, “there has not been a drilling or hydraulic-fracturing incident that has affected groundwater, and there have been no incidents which have affected a family’s or community’s drinking water.”
Community activists immediately pointed out that the state’s own records show that, as recently as 2009, toulene and dissolved methane were found in a residential water well in Weld County that included contamination of the Fox-Hills Aquifer.
“COGA’s statement in the Denver Post is not correct,” said Shane Davis of the Sierra Club. “Groundwater and aquifer contamination have occurred in a residential water well since 2009.”Records maintained by the state show that almost half (46.3 percent) of the 452 spills in Weld County contaminated groundwater.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission investigated the incident after a homeowner complained of finding gas bubbles in his water. Testing of a nearby well indicated a hole in the casing caused the leak that contaminated the aquifer and “resulted in a significant waste of oil and gas resources and a significant adverse impact on public health, safety or welfare or the environment,” according to the state report.
The gas well was then shut down and the operator (Eddy Oil) was fined $46,200 and required to remediate the property owner’s impacts, after state investigators found that maintenance failures caused the spill.
“Groundwater and surface water are being contaminated by oil and gas production activities,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action.
The latest flap over Schuller’s statement came just a few days after Gov. Hickenlooper was called out for making similar statements in a radio ad.
Conservation groups have stepped up the pressure on Hickenlooper to withdraw the announcement after analyzing state records showing that hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil and other potentially toxic liquids have been spilled — and not recovered — in Weld County drilling operations.
The continued inaccuracies will only serve to further undermine public trust and confidence in the oil and gas industry, according to conservation activists, who say they want the governor and the industry to be upfront about the potential perils of drilling rather than trying to greenwash the industry.