Letter: Another viewpoint on oil and gas industry

I am writing in regard to an article in your Aug. 20 edition written by a representative from the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association (WSCOGA) and pertaining to regulation of that industry. Such articles more properly belong in your Opinion section. If your staff had researched the article, they should have noted the following:
n The article mentions studies of hydraulic fracturing during the Clinton and Bush administrations but does not cite those studies. The major report of record is the 2004 EPA Study to Evaluate the Impacts to USDWs by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Reservoirs. Among its conclusions, that study found that “in some cases, constituents of potential concern (section ES-6) are injected directly into underground sources of drinking water (USDWs) during the course of normal fracturing operations. The use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids introduces benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX) into USDWs. BTEX compounds are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).” To their credit, as noted in the same report, “three major service companies signed a memorandum of agreement to voluntarily eliminate diesel fuel from hydraulic fracturing fluids that are injected directly into USDWs for coalbed methane (CBM) production (USEPA, 2003). Industry representatives estimate that these three companies perform approximately 95 percent of the hydraulic fracturing projects in the United States (as of 2004, ed. note).” However, companies still hold as proprietary the composition of their hydraulic fracturing fluids, and it is not known whether all potentially harmful contaminants have been eliminated from the fluids.
n Research in preparation of the 2004 EPA report showed that hydraulic fracturing depletes underground sources of drinking water during coalbed methane production, and, furthermore, the remaining ground water volume was not sufficient to dilute components of the fracturing fluid to safe drinking water standards.
n Aquifers in the Piceance Basin have not been monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey since the late 1980s. Some monitoring wells now are being re-activated. The geology of the Piceance and new drilling technologies probably protect the aquifers, but we don’t know their status, at least in the public record, until USGS resumes data collection.
n Among other claims in the WSCOGA article, the author states that chemical additives compose less than 1 percent of the hydraulic fracturing fluid. In fact, many organic compounds, heavy metals and other chemicals are dangerous at concentrations of parts per million (one ten-thousandth of one percent) or lower. (Note: I do not claim that the industry includes such toxins in the fracking fluids; I hope that they do provide full disclosure of the fluid composition.)
It is of some interest to pursue the 1 percent rule further, in a different context. According to figures from another industry spokesperson at EIS-Solutions in Grand Junction, the cost of implementing Safe Drinking Water regulations are less than 1 percent of industry profits. By their own 1 percent argument, above, that would seem insignificant.
The fossil fuel exploration and production companies are interstate and international in scope. As such, their activities are most properly regulated by the federal government under the Clean Air, Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts.
I hope that, in the future, the Herald Times will alert readers to info-mercials vs. objective reporting. The article in question in my letter, for example, failed to present all the facts. I hope you and your staff might fact-check such articles before publication; without that, I hope you will attach a disclaimer to such articles to the effect that the content of the article represents the opinion of the author, not research by the Herald Times, and that the Herald Times staff has not cross-checked the sources.
Bob Dorsett, MD

Editor’s note: The article on hydraulic fracing that appeared in last week’s Herald Times was published on an opinion page, and was identified as such by the header at the top of the page.