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To frack or not to frack
A natural gas drilling rig on the Pinedale Anticline, just west of Wyoming’s Wind River Range. (Photo courtesy: The Pinedale Field office of the Bureau of Land Management.)

By James Mejia

According to the Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development, the kerfuffle over fracking is all a misunderstanding. They point to the fact that, “…fracking has been safely used over 1.2 million times since 1947… [and]… more than 90 percent of oil and gas wells undergo fracking at some point during their lifespan.” They also claim that, “… neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has ever found a connection to chemicals entering our groundwater as a result of the fracking process.” So what’s wrong with the process of fracking to release gas and harvest home grown energy to reduce our reliance on foreign energy?

Earth Justice would advocate for putting on the brakes, as would many of the environmental and citizen groups fighting fracking. Just because no linkage has been proven between the release of toxic fracking chemicals and groundwater contamination doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. In order to maintain our environmental safety, shouldn’t we prove there is not a connection between fracking and groundwater contamination and earthquakes before we proceed with these risky tactics that put our homes and environment at risk? They claim on their web site that, “According to state records, an oil and gas-related spill ends up in ground or surface water every three and a half days. And in 2011, Congress found that industry blasted 1.3 million gallons of diesel into wells in the state – going back on a promise not to do so.”

With the country’s drive to become energy independent, fracking might seem like the most popular movement in decades. However, it has not only become a controversial initiative, it has split the Democratic Party, the State of Colorado, and has become the most volatile issue this election season.

Fracking Is Not New

The process of fracking has been done for years so why is it so controversial? Advances in horizontal drilling technology means gas trapped miles away from a drill makes that gas accessible. Coupled with improved geological mapping, horizontal drilling expands the source of gas dramatically. As a result, farmers, ranchers and home owners have suddenly become partners with oil and gas companies and have sold the rights beneath their property for exploration.

Economy of Fracking

The Washington Post reports that 30 percent of downtown Denver workers are employed by the oil and gas industry. This comes as no surprise to those of us who have been here a while – indeed, our founding as a state has always been reliant on extraction industries – mining, oil and gas - and the financial, accounting and organizational systems needed to keep them running.

On the other hand, many people have stayed here or migrated to the state given our emphasis on the outdoor lifestyle, clean water and clean air. The difficult choices posed by fracking begs the question; how does our state balance our economic interests with our desire to protect the environment? Given the chance to opine, voters in Longmont, Boulder, Lafayette, Boulder and Fort Collins approved either moratoriums, bans or strict regulations.

Politics of Fracking

Until last month, it looked like four competing statewide fracking initiatives were headed to the November ballot. US Congressman, Jared Polis, financed and supported two of the initiatives solidifying support from environmentalists, renewable energy advocates, and liberal political groups. The other two initiatives were designed to thwart Polis’ efforts and were supported by business groups, especially the oil and gas industry.

The four initiatives pitted Polis against Hickenlooper who is in an unexpectedly tight race for his gubernatorial re-election. Hickenlooper’s fracking stance is politically uncomfortable, at once reliant on the liberal base decidedly against his brand of oil and gas exploration but also dependent on Republican oil and gas financing for his campaign. To his credit, Hickenlooper was successful in having the initiatives pulled from the ballot in a last ditch compromise which included the formation of a panel to make recommendations to the General Assembly for new fracking laws and regulations.

Hickenlooper’s re-election is a harbinger for where the state is headed on the fracking issue. Win or lose, political pundits will point to the importance the fracking issue played in the campaign.

Fracking as a political issue is here to stay. The governor’s race is the beginning and not the end to the issue – expect the issue to play in not only statewide campaigns, but also local campaigns well into the future in Colorado.





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