Harvard Study Casts Doubt on Colorado Fracking Database

On April 24th, The Denver Post reported on a Harvard Law School analysis that is questioning the reliability of the online database that Colorado uses to disclose the ingredients in fracking fluids to the public.

The practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it is commonly referred to, is a highly controversial mining procedure in which pressurized mixtures of water, sand, and chemicals are injected deep into rock formations to break apart oil and gas deposits.

Opponents of fracking argue that the extraction procedure is not only dangerous to workers, but nearby residents. The chemicals used in the process have been known to contaminate groundwater, and has been linked to bone, liver, and breast cancers, as well as illnesses in the gastrointestinal, respiratory, and nervous systems. Fracking also raises a long list of environmental concerns.

Some Colorado cities, like Fort Collins, are taking matters into their own hands by banning fracking in city limits, defying the state’s policy that local governments do not have the authority to regulate the oil and gas industry.

“We are responsible for the residents of Fort Collins and their well-being,” Karen Weitkunat, Mayor of Fort Collins, said. “We’re truly representing the people when we come forward with a decision, even though it may conflict with the state’s.”

In an effort to protect Colorado citizens from the dangers of fracking, while still allowing the industry to continue providing thousands of jobs, legislators enacted disclosure policies last year which forced fracking companies to reveal the concentration of chemicals they were using. An online database, FracFocus.org, was created as the platform for the information to be made available to the public.

However, Colorado’s reputation as having one of the strictest regulations on fracking in the U.S. has now been tarnished by Harvard’s analysis of FracFocus, which found reporting errors and gaps in the national independent database.

For example, in evaluating fracking files from Texas, the researchers discovered that almost a third of the chemicals listed didn’t exist.

“FracFocus was a serious voluntary reporting effort,” said Kate Konschnik, policy director of the Harvard Environmental Law Program. “As a regulatory mechanism, the states haven’t thought out its use.”

The researchers also criticized the current policy that only allows the viewing of one well at a time, which, as Konschnik put it, “is like putting blinders on so you only get a snapshot.”

Colorado oil and gas regulators have said that improvements in the current system will be implemented by this June.

The study also questioned the ability of Colorado and other states to properly track and manage filings. As of now, there is no enforcement in place to oversee that information is being logged correctly or on time, begging the question of whether or not Colorado’s fracking rules are even serving their purpose—to protect the citizens of Colorado from water contamination.

“There are still significant gaps in reporting in Colorado,” said Bruce Baizel, director of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

Read more about this story at The Denver Post.

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