Daily Sentinel | 13 July 2016
Hydraulic fracturing isn’t polluting wells in northeastern Colorado with methane — an important scientific conclusion at a time when voters may be asked to consider banning the practice statewide.
University of Colorado researchers sifted through 25 years of public data maintained by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state’s regulatory agency, to determine the source of dissolved methane in the Denver-Julesburg basin’s groundwater supply.
As The Sentinel’s Charles Ashby reported Tuesday, researchers identified the culprit as a natural microbial process that occurs around shallow coal seams that crisscross the region. High-volume fracking — the practice of using sand, water and chemicals to free up gas in tight formations — has little to nothing to do with methane in groundwater supplies in that type of formation, according to the report.
Last year, the EPA issued draft findings of an exhaustive study that concluded fracking hasn’t had “widespread, systemic impacts” on the country’s drinking water. The Colorado study seems to put an exclamation point on that assertion.
That doesn’t mean drilling is 100 percent safe. The Colorado study’s lead author conceded that accidents and leaks do happen. The takeaway — that fracking, when done properly, doesn’t pose a significant threat to drinking water — won’t deter fracking opponents. They’ll simply burrow in on the idea that widespread drilling increases the risk for contamination by virtue of the possibility for error.
That refusal to see the big picture is like demanding a ban on air travel because there’s a possibility that a jetliner could crash. Voters would never approve such a ban, but fracking is another story.
There are currently three proposed ballot measures dealing with fracking. Two would give local governments more authority in regulating drilling activities. A third would establish a 2,500-foot setback rule from occupied structures or “other specifically or locally designated area.” Opponents say the third measure is written so broadly that it would effectively ban the use of hydraulic fracturing in the state.
We agree and we’ve already warned that such a ban could devestate the state’s economy, costing thousands of jobs and millions in revenue. It would also conflict with Colorado’s constitutionally protected mineral rights, setting the stage for a legal battle that could be very costly for taxpayers. The legal question would center on how far the state can go in usurping property rights. The state Supreme Court recently ruled that cities could not ban fracking in their city limits.