Over the past several months, hydraulic fracturing has become a hot topic and subjected to much misrepresentation. In June, Congresswoman Diane DeGette, who represents Colorado’s First District, introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009, the “FRAC Act.” The bill is an attempt to give authority to the federal government to regulate a widely-used and safe process that is already being effectively managed at the state level.
Colorado regulates its own oil and natural gas industry, as do all states. Each state regulates its industry in a manner that protects the people and the land, while producing quality energy for our nation. Colorado regulates its industry through the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (“COGCC”). Recently, Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law a series of rules that provide strict oversight for our oil and gas industry. In fact, one of the largest national environmental organizations, Earthjustice, praised the COGCC for creating the “strongest rules passed in the nation.”
Add to that, there hasn’t been a single case of contamination by hydraulic fracturing fluids over the course of 60 years and more than one million wells that have used fracing. In fact, in an interview on Colorado Public Matters in June, DeGette acknowledged there isn’t any proof that hydraulic fracturing is an unsafe practice. She states that what she is basing her legislation on is “a lot of anecdotal evidence.”
Given this information, it begs the question: If the states already regulate hydraulic fracturing and there have been zero documented cases of contamination by hydraulic fracturing fluids, why do we need the legislation?
And the answer is, we don’t.
We already have a system in place that is doing its job to protect our people and our way of life. Each state knows its own unique features and the manner that will best protect those things we hold so dear. DeGette’s bill creates unnecessary one-size-fits-all federal legislation that doesn’t offer any true protection.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process used to help increase the productivity to natural gas wells thereby decreasing the need for more wells and surface disturbance. Indeed, four out of five wells in the nation have used hydraulic fracturing to be productive. The process of creating a well starts with a drilling rig arriving onsite and drilling a hole to a monitored depth. As the hole is drilled, a pipe is placed into the hole and then encased with high-grade cement. When the casing process has been completed and tested to ensure that groundwater is protected, the fracing crew arrives. Fracing begins as thousands of gallons of water and sand are pumped into the pipe. The water, pumped at extremely high pressure, fractures the tight rock, creating pathways for the gas or oil to flow.
In order to keep the fractures open when pressure is relieved, trace amounts of other substances are used to condition the water. These additives include things like guar, used in salad dressing; potassium chloride, a salt substitute; and gel, which you can find in a scoop of ice cream. All told, these additional substances constitute less than 1 percent of the fracing fluid.
DeGette states there isn’t any knowledge of what is in hydraulic fracturing fluids as the reason for her legislation. However, under both the Clinton and the Bush administration, the EPA published reports stating hydraulic fracturing did not pose a threat to groundwater. Additionally, operators in Colorado must maintain MSDS sheets and chemical inventories of products used on site and report to the COGCC. In the event of an emergency, the COGCC would make the list of proprietary chemicals available to health officials.
Seven of the 10 counties in northwest Colorado had active oil and natural gas activity last year. With that energy production came increased jobs, tax revenues and community giving. The production of oil and natural gas in northwest Colorado facilitates the growth and vitality of our communities that we hold so dear. In contrast, the district that Rep. Diana DeGette represents does not have oil and gas production. It’s time for Coloradans to let their federal elected officials know that Colorado already regulates its oil and gas industry. We don’t need any help from Washington.
Kathy Hall is the executive director
of the Western Slope Colorado
Oil and Gas Association