Udall calls fracking ‘safe technology’
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
RIFLE, Colorado – U.S. Senator Mark Udall told local officials this week that he believes hydraulic fracturing, a technique for freeing up oil and gas deposits buried deep underground, is inherently safe and not a threat to human health.
“I want the industry to do everything possible to assure the public that fracking is safe,” Udall wrote in a followup email to the Post Independent, “including working with EPA on their study, releasing the list of materials used, and being completely transparent. One well contaminated or one person made sick is one too many.”
Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, met on Tuesday with the Garfield County commissioners as well as the mayors of Rifle and Silt and Rio Blanco County Commissioner Ken Parsons.
The main subject of the meeting was a plan to return $17 million in federal oil shale mitigation funds to the counties and communities most affected by the oil shale boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The intended recipients of those funds – in Garfield, Mesa, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties – were told that Udall and others in Congress are working to get the money out of federal accounts and into the hands of local governments on Colorado’s Western Slope.
Aside from the oil shale funds, Udall and the local officials held a wide-ranging discussion about energy issues, including fracking.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a process in which drilling companies inject vast amounts of water, sand (or other granulated material) and chemicals to fracture and prop open deeply buried, gas-bearing rock formations to permit the gas to flow to the surface.
The process has virtually become the only method used today to exploit natural gas reserves around the U.S., and has come under increasing scrutiny as drilling companies have shifted their focus from remote areas to populated ones in northeastern states and in the West.
People living near areas targeted for drilling have voiced fears that proximity to drilling rigs is a threat to human health as well as water and air quality, due both to the chemicals injected in the ground as part of the fracking fluids, and to the “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs) found along with the gas and oil.
The industry has maintained that drilling does not pose a hazard to the health of those living nearby, and that there never has been conclusive evidence that their activities pose a health hazard.
“I believe it’s a safe technology,” said Udall. “It’s resulted in a lot of home-grown energy being produced.”
But the industry must be careful about maintaining the integrity of well-bore casings once the drilling and fracking has been completed and the gas begins to flow upward, he said.
If a casing deteriorates or cracks, Udall said, the result is an increased possibility of contamination of underground water aquifers and wells.
In Garfield County, locals believe that is exactly what happened when a local water well, owned by the Dietrich family, located south of Silt, was found to be contaminated by nearby drilling activities in 2004.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) announced last year that, due to continued indications of contamination of area wells, it would renew investigations into the possible link between water well contamination and nearby gas drilling activity.
A separate instance of gas drilling activities polluting local waterways was the Divide Creek Seep case, also in 2004, when chemicals from the gas drilling process were found seeping into the creek.
That case lead to a fine of $371,000 levied against the EnCana gas company by the COGCC, and the contamination was blamed on faulty cementing of the well-bore casing.
The New York Times reported on Aug. 3 about another case of alleged contamination of groundwater supplies by nearby fracking of gas wells. The case occurred in 1984 in West Virginia.
A report on the case, according to the story, was published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1987.
“My office has contacted the EPA concerning this case and we are waiting to hear back from them,” said Udall when asked about the West Virginia case. “The bottom line is that drilling and fracking have to be done right for it to be safe.”
EPA officials reportedly stressed at the time that “legal settlements and nondisclosure agreements prevented access to scientific documentation of other incidents,” the Times article stated.
A former official with the EPA, Dan Derkicks, told the Times of his suspicions about “hundreds of other cases of drinking water contamination,” where fracking may have contaminated nearby water wells, but where documents about the incidents were sealed by a judge.
Industry officials in 1987 criticized the research behind the report, according to the Times, and stated that drilling safeguards were improved as a consequence of that incident.
The Times article reported that the EPA’s current investigation into the safety of fracking also is hampered by sealed documents and nondisclosure settlements involving reported water well contamination cases.
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