With oil and gas development moving forward in El Paso County, citizens in Colorado Springs are educating themselves on the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in preparation for the possibility of further development within the city limits, said Dave Gardner of Colorado Springs Citizens for Community Rights.
According to CSCCR’s website the group formed to protect their right to clean air, water and soil – and good health.
- Educate residents about oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking)
- Work with local, state and federal governments to ensure comprehensive oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing regulations
- Place a rights-based charter amendment on the ballot in Colorado Springs, banning hydraulic fracturing
What is fracking?
According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s website, http://energy.usgs.gov, fracking is a process used to extract oil and gas most commonly used in “low permeability rocks like tight sandstone, shale and some coal beds to increase oil and/or gas flow to a well from petroleum-bearing rock formations.”
In August 2011, a two-day oil and gas summit was held, and experts from the industry were in attendance, many of whom presented general information on oil and gas development, as reported in the Sept. 3, 2011, issue of The New Falcon Herald.
At the summit, Vince Matthews, a geologist from the Colorado Geological Survey, said that before fracking occurs, an oil and gas company must drill down to the trapped resources. In Colorado, the resource is the Niobrara Shale Formation.
In the newly drilled well, layers of steel casings and cement are alternated to create a conduit for extracting the material, said Doug Flanders, director of external affairs for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (speaking at the summit). To reach into the shale formation, the operators must create fractures through which the oil and gas can flow, Flanders said. Using a perforation gun, the operators make small holes in the casings and cement, he said.
Thom Kerr of the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission also spoke at the summit and said a ballistic charge is then used to crack the surrounding rock. Flanders said these cracks are generally between one-to-three-tenths of an inch thick, and can be somewhere between 20 and 300 feet high. This process can be repeated up to 40 times in a 1-to-2-mile long stretch of well bore, Matthews said.
Also at the summit, Dave Neslin of the COGCC said the cracks are propped open with fracking fluids that contain a mixture of water, chemicals and proppants. He said the mixture is about 90.6 percent water; 8.96 percent proppant (usually sand or ceramics); and .45 percent chemicals. Through the propped cracks, the oil and gas flows back into the well bore, Neslin said.
“Fracking is nasty business based on the chemicals involved and where we put them,” Gardner said in a January interview. “It’s loony to pump all these carcinogens and toxins into the ground because you don’t know where they’ll end up.”
An article in the December 2012 issue of National Geographic identifies three possible ways for contamination of drinking water: leaky ponds, faulty wells and fissures.
- “Leaky ponds: Contaminated wastewater from fracking is often stored in surface ponds, which can overflow or leak, polluting streams or groundwater.
- Faulty wells: Wells are reinforced with steel casing and sealed with concrete. But poor cementing can leave gaps that allow methane or fracking chemicals to contaminate drinking-water aquifers.
- Fissures: Fracking fissures might connect to natural ones, allowing pollutants to migrate. Whether they’d climb thousands of feet to shallow aquifers isn’t clear.”
“Air quality is a big (concern), too, because it’s a health issue more than an environmental issue,” Gardner said. “You don’t have to be an environmentalist to not want to poison your children.
“With 13 inspectors for 39,000 wells in Colorado, the COGCC makes it pretty clear that they don’t take enforcement seriously.”
Stuart Ellsworth, an engineering manager with the COGCC, disagreed with Gardner. “That number is not accurate. Our inspection group has a 16-person staff,” he said. “We also have 10 environmental specialists who are doing the exact same job as the inspectors by going on site to make sure there are no environmental issues, while the inspectors focus on the drilling procedures.”
Ellsworth said the key to making sure that any well is working properly begins at the permitting process. “How it works in relation to the site is done by environmental people in permitting,” he said. “The engineering staff reviews the well for how it’s going to be built. Then they review the well for how it has been built. It’s very short-sighted to only count the inspectors. You have to look at the program; you can’t just look at one element of the process of regulation.”
Gardner said the COGCC sounds great in theory but their original charter in 1951 defined the COGCC as an advocate for the oil and gas industry. The regulatory side of their organization was established a few years later.
According to the COGCC’s website, http://cogcc.state.co.us, “The mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is to foster the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources.”
Under its strategic plan, the COGCC’s first goal is to “promote the exploration, development and conservation of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources.”
“Our original charter in 1951 was to make sure that the ‘drill it hard and fast’ thing didn’t happen in Colorado,” Ellsworth said. “As our knowledge as a society and about different elements of mineral extraction has changed, our rules have changed. In 1972, when they claimed the safe drinking water and clean air acts, our rules changed. As that has changed, in the 1980s, they created the environmental protection department. In 2008, when people were asking for a better relationship with surface procedures, we created a disclosure rule for fracking chemicals and we’ve looked into larger setbacks.”
Gardner said that groups like Colorado Springs Citizens for Community Rights have one bottom line: “Our No. 1 hope is to see drilling and fracking banned in the city limits,” he said. “We’re focusing on Colorado Springs because fracking is banned in residential zones; and, yes, it seems ludicrous to have that kind of activity in a residential zone. But the best outcome would be to have drilling and fracking not in the city of Colorado Springs. “If it has to happen, we want to see much wider and stricter regulations and enforcements.”
The memorandum of understanding the COGCC entered into on Nov. 15, 2012, with El Paso County isn’t satisfactory to the group regarding stricter regulations, Gardner said. The MOU requires oil and gas operators to follow the county’s guidelines on water quality testing, which is stricter than the COGCC’s water quality regulation.
“There are signs that the COGCC is wetting their finger and holding it up in the air to see which way the winds are blowing,” he said. “We are putting pressure on the COGCC to get more serious about doing their jobs.”