(MintPress) – The tug of war over fracking regulations in Colorado is pitting oil companies against residents concerned with water contamination. The opposition to the industry isn’t subject to one brand of environmentalist, as farmers concerned with their livelihood and mothers worried over their children’s drinking water are joining the fight.
The most recent play in the game came this month, with proposed rules that would increase monitoring of residents’ drinking supplies. That may sound like a good deal on the surface, but it’s not exactly the expansive water control project it’s touted to be.
A proposed rule that would protect from fracking-induced contamination doesn’t go far enough for concerned residents, with only 25 percent of the wells, pipelines and water infrastructure subject to monitoring.
That’s not enough for those living in communities where the fracking industry is expected to boom. In 2012, reports from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed what many rural dwellers have already known: There is a link between fracking and groundwater contamination, documenting hydrocarbons associated with fracking chemicals in drinking water wells near fracking wells.
The could-be rules also have environmental organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund, sounding the alarms, citing concern over a sampling process that could allow the oil industry to pick and choose where monitoring would take place. A clean bill in one community doesn’t necessarily translate in a clean bill for the entire state.
In an interview with the Denver Post, Environmental Defense Fund regional director Dan Grossman referred to the proposed sampling rules as the worst in the nation. This, despite the fact the state ranked second in the nation for the use of carcinogenic fluids used in the fracking process.
The proposed rules will be debated with a three-day hearing, hosted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), complete with testimony from residents living near the Wattenberg Field drilling zones, located north of Denver. The area is home to more than 17,000 fracking wells. If passed, that specific zone, despite a robust industry, wouldn’t necessarily have to be tested.
COGCC is an organization intended to promote the oil industry, while also serving as the government body favoring the environment.
The COGCC is tasked to “conduct studies to develop baseline data to assess environmental impacts.” This, despite the fact that the first line of its strategic plans is to “promote the exploration, development and conservation of Colorado’s oil and gas resources.” The organization itself is a conflict of interest.
And while community members’ voices will be heard, there’s concern over the power local citizens have when faced with oil companies that have state government in their corner of the ring.
Creating real change — or expanding the industry?
While the rule seems intent on increasing monitoring and protecting residents, it would also undermine fracking bans, including one passed by Longmont, Colo. voters in November. Similar measures are up for review in Aurora, Louisville and Lafayette, Colo. If passed, it would be a major blow to oil companies scouting land for hydraulic fracturing.
The state’s governor, John Hickenlooper, has been vocal in his support of the fracking industry, appearing in a radio ad in favor of the fracking industry, sponsored by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. In the radio spot, he highlights the fact that, since 2008, no recognized cases of groundwater contamination have occurred.
Hickenlooper, who previously said the state would sue Longmont if the fracking ban passed, retracted his statement in December 2012. Instead, he said the state would support oil and gas companies who did sue Longmont. The lawsuit on behalf of the state would have come at the hands of COGCC, if deemed legal to sue.
According to the Reporter Herald, a Loveland, Colo. newspaper, COGCC already sued the city in July after it passed oil and gas regulations that restricted surface drilling in residential zones. COGCC argued it could not override state authority.
Is there a threat?
It wasn’t too long ago when a site near Windsor, Colo., less than 20 miles south of Fort Collins, was declared an environmental emergency and was shut down after the drilling rig was cited as bringing up toxic waste. The incident provided a glimpse into the fracking permitting process. A permit was issued for drilling at that site by COGCC in 2010.
As noted by author and activist Michele Swenson, it caused concern among the local community over a regulation system that, in this case, didn’t provide protection.
In 2011, the New York Times reported that wastewater generated through the fracking process was being released through sewage plants not intended to treat it. The water was then transferred into streams and rivers (which ultimately supplies drinking water) — and documents obtained through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed higher levels of radioactivity in water sources. It sounded an alarm within the environmental community, as the threat was greater than expected.
According to Food and Water Watch, an environmental watchdog organization, more than 1,000 individual cases of drinking water contamination have been reported throughout the country. Citing a study by Duke University, the organization said in a press release that drinking water wells near fracking zones contained 17 times the methane levels of non-active fracking sites.
Yet with each study released — and each human stepping forward citing contamination of drinking water and concern, the oil business has lobbied together, promoting job growth and healthy economies.
As noted by MintPress News in a December article, key oil companies in the fracking business, specifically Range Resources, admitted to hiring former military officers with experience in psychological warfare to win over the hearts and minds of residents — and policy makers (politicians).
The refusal to acknowledge a link between fracking and water contamination has been led by oil companies and political leaders eager to inject the economy with a new market sure to develop job growth, infusing the economy during a time in which the country is working its way out of a recession.
In November, after Longmont residents passed their fracking ban, hundreds gathered in Denver for a “pro-business” rally, which essentially served as a pro-fracking protest.
In an interview with MintPress News, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Brough said, at this point, the state is concerned about job creation — and it’s finding it within the fracking industry.
“What it (oil industry) puts into public coffers around the state is tremendous and really helps, frankly, what others might have to pay,” Brough said.
There’s no denying the industry is robust, employing 100,000 people around the state. The question now is: Is that reason enough to move forward with rules that turn a back to water contamination?
While everyone is in favor of jobs, the people of Colorado — at least the majority of voters in Longmont, Colo. — say the health of their families and neighbors is more important than a paycheck.
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