In 2010, the oil and gas industry supported 107,000 jobs statewide and generated $31.9 billion in economic output. This is big money for local governments that benefit from related taxes and the jobs the industry brings. Fracking seems like it’s here to stay but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be well regulated. At the same time, local officials should be thinking about how to strategically spend oil and gas revenue so as to create long-lasting economic activity in their community–economic activity that isn’t dependent on a finite supply of natural resources.
Earlier this week, The Coloradoan put out what we consider to be a pretty good primer on fracking. The article explains what fracking is, how it works, the economic benefits, and the possible environmental and health consequences. While the article naturally focuses a bit on fracking near Fort Collins, oil and gas drilling is becoming pervasive throughout the State.
Even though the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission recently approved stricter water testing standards, one major area of concern is still ensuring that any harmful chemicals used in fracking fluids don’t find their way into our groundwater. At the heart of the problem is an industry bent on preventing formal regulation and that resorts to stunts like the one pulled by Halliburton CEO Dave Lesar when he had a fellow executive take a swig of fracking fluid during a presentation at a Colorado Oil and Gas Association conference.
In late 2011, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission passed a rule requiring that drillers disclose the chemicals and concentrations used during operations but not the specifics on how they were used. The rule also provided companies with a way to keep some chemicals from being disclosed so long as the company attests that the chemical is proprietary. This, of course, leaves open the possibility of abuse.
Studies suggest that fracking can lead to environmental and health consequences. The Coloradoan primer includes a summary of ten studies on the effects of fracking. Here’s a sample:
• University of Colorado Boulder/NOAA, 2013: Study co-authored by chemist Jessica Gilman looked at 550 air samples taken in Northern Colorado in 2011 and found that oil and gas operations are emitting the building blocks of winter ozone pollution into air over Weld County and Fort Collins. Average propane levels in Fort Collins’ air were found to be higher than those in Houston.
• Duke University, 2011: Study co-authored by Stephen G. Osborn, Robert Jackson and others documented “systematic evidence” of methane contamination of drinking water associated with natural gas extraction in the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania.
• Colorado School of Public Health, 2012: Researcher Lisa McKenzie found that people living near natural gas wells being fracked are exposed to brief periods of pollution leading to many different health effects, while also facing a possible cancer risk because of benzene exposure. The study, conducted for Garfield County, is discredited by the oil and gas industry because of a lack of data and context and because the county declined to finalize the study.
In Colorado, more studies are expected on air quality and how fracking impacts the water supply.