The ongoing investigation of the controversial hydraulic fracturing procedure, commonly known as “fracking,” done in oil wells all throughout Colorado has again gained international attention following September’s unprecedented flooding disaster.
Since fracking and horizontal drilling were first introduced in 2006, the number of oil and gas wells in Colorado has doubled. This method of extracting oil relies on blasting high pressures of water, sand, and chemicals into deep rock formations, causing gas deposits to surface.
Because of its proximity to residential communities, and concerns that the chemicals are contaminating groundwater sources, fracking is considered by many to be a dangerous practice for both the environment and nearby citizens. Colorado has some of the strictest fracking regulatory policies in the country – however, some groups contend that the regulations still aren’t strong enough.
In response to a number of sizeable oil spills—totaling an estimated 27,000 gallons of oil—caused by the state’s recent flooding event, some government officials are calling for congressional action, and questions are being raised about the safety of fracking.
Colorado Democratic Representative Jared Polis recently voiced his frustration in a press release, saying, “Not only have my constituents been dealing with damage to their homes, schools and roads, they are increasingly concerned about the toxic spills that have occurred from the flooding of nearly 1,900 fracking wells in Colorado.”
According to a report by Al Jazeera America, Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is currently tracking 12 “notable” spills, 14 sites with evidence of a small spill, 8 known leaks, and 60 sites with obvious damage to storage tanks.
“Inspectors are completely overwhelmed,” said Polis to the U.K.-based newspaper The Guardian. “There are only a couple of dozen in the state and some areas remain inaccessible even today. The number of inspectors is insufficient to reach all the sites.”
Officials say more than 37,000 gallons of oil spilled into or near rivers, causing extensive property damage and personal injury to nearby residents. Many Coloradoans who have lost their homes and businesses to the flood are scrambling to see if their insurance policy will provide coverage so that they can rebuild their life. And on top of that, they now have to deal with the threat of toxic exposure from oil spills.
“People dealing with aftermath of a catastrophic natural disaster don’t need to worry that their health is at risk because of oil and gas spills,” said Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio, who, along with Polis, sent a letter to the House Natural Resources Committee last Friday pleading for a hearing on the spills.
Photos of the damage caused by fracking fluid leaks, oil spills, and toppled gas tanks have reignited vehement opposition to the lax regulations on hydraulic fracturing. Local and national environmentalists alike are calling for tougher restrictions on fracking, and welcome a congressional hearing.
“I think it’s significant,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action to Al Jazeera. “It has a good chance of shining light on the failed policies of the state of Colorado.”