Shale Daily / NGI All News Access

Colorado Governor Stirs Up Fracking Debate

With most new oil/gas exploration and production (E&P) moving to the more populated eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies from its traditional rural west-central focus, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) embarked last month on a three-month public service advertising campaign as part of a broader community outreach on the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). So far the campaign is raising more interest than anticipated, according to COGA, and mostly because anti-fracking groups are crying foul.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a one-time petroleum geologist turned entrepreneur, is featured in the first 30-second public service advertisement (www.coga.org), drawing criticism from environmentalists who contend that he is minimizing the dangers to local groundwater from fracking. COGA CEO Tisha Conoly Schuller told NGI's Shale Daily that the outcry has actually helped draw attention to the campaign.

"There is a lot of interest and misinformation about the industry," said Schuller, who noted that COGA has hired a full-time community outreach coordinator and is supplementing the on-the-ground efforts with the advertising campaign.

"The purpose was to have someone who is a respected voice on oil/gas issues talk about the new rules that went into place in 2008, when Colorado overhauled its rules with some really substantive measures to protect groundwater. They included things like new casing and cementing requirements and new pressure-monitoring requirements during fracking."

Schuller said the rules have been "very successful," and there have been no instances of groundwater contamination since they went into effect in 2009. There also have been no casing or cementing failures, or any kinds of failures during fracking operations. "That's the purpose of the ads: to let people know Colorado has these rules in place and they're working," she said.

The eastern slope, with its more heavy population sprawl, is home to several cities which have proposed and enacted bans on fracking until they can formulate local rules protecting water supplies (see Shale Daily, Feb. 15).

A coalition of 13 environmental organizations at the end of February sent a letter to Hickenlooper, criticizing him for participating in the COGA ad and arguing that the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (OGCC) has found 58 cases of groundwater pollution linked to drilling operation spills and releases.

Schuller counters that none of those cases involved fracking or contamination of drinking water. OGCC continues to keep a database of all spills and issued a summary report two months ago. In December OGCC also began requiring all E&P operators to publish on a public website (www.fracfocus.org) all of the chemicals and water volumes used in fracking wells.

"Gov. Hickenlooper has often stated to industry that businesses that want to operate in Colorado will have to do so differently, working with a variety of stakeholders, and being held to the toughest regulatory requirements," Schuller said. "Colorado's oil/gas industry has embraced this challenge," which COGA and the governor maintain includes the "strictest hydraulic fracturing disclosure rule in the nation."

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