Op-Ed, Documentary Piece Raises Serious Doubts about Safety of Fracking

Much buzz has been swirling around hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ as it’s known. The process for extracting natural gas has experienced a boom in the last decade – 10 years ago, only 1% of the country’s natural gas supply came from this extraction method. Today, it supplies over 30%.

The extraction method that uses high pressure of water and chemicals to force gas deposits to the surface has boomed in states like Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado. For workers, the process does carry some risks with several injuries and even deaths occurring from chemical exposure and explosions.

Public opinion of fracking has decidedly become opposed to the process. Much of this perception is driven by a recent documentary called Gasland, which includes footage of water faucets close to fracking wells being lit on fire (see preview below).

A recent op-ed in Scientific American also cast doubt on the safety of fracking. A study from Duke University for example found that methane levels in wells within 1-kilometer (3280 ft.) of a fracking site were 17 times higher than wells far away from a gas rig.

The article continues by saying that states are flying blind on regulating these wells. Colorado does require companies to disclose the chemicals they use but that’s about as far as it goes in our fair state. Adequate study hasn’t been done to determine how the practice contaminates groundwater and how to prevent it. It’s also unclear how much groundwater has been contaminated up to this point.

The author of the op-ed says the federal government should adopt common standards for all fracking operations, which are not currently regulated by the feds. There’s currently a bill in Congress to address a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005, which exempted fracking from any federal oversight.

Industry interests like Tisha Conoly-Schuller, President & CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Commission, concede public opinion is decidedly against hydraulic fracturing. She credits Gasland with swaying public opinion.

Conoly-Shuller though maintains scientific and empirical evidence does not show a link between the process and groundwater contamination. She delivered her remarks and suggestions on how the industry can reach out to the public at a recent conference in Denver.

Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas certainly has a lot of controversy surrounding it. However, it’s certainly a significant part of extracting gas resources. Like any type of drilling or mining, it does pose risks to workers here in Colorado and elsewhere.

But other risks may be present to surrounding groundwater supplies too – expect debate to be fierce on the extent of these risks as well as the debate on any future courses of action.