A guest post by Michele Swensen
The week prior to Senator Morgan Carroll’s May 2 introduction of SB 107 (The Fracking Safety Act) to the Senate Judiciary Committee, an oil drilling site near Windsor, Colorado, operated by Ranchers Exploration Partners based in Greeley, was issued a cease-and-desist order by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which declared an environmental emergency. The site, located in unincorporated Larimer County above the Ridge West residential subdivision, the Poudre River and a lake, was declared a public health hazard after the drilling rig became unstable and brought up potentially toxic solid waste from the landfill upon which it was positioned. The COGCC had issued a drilling permit in September 2010, and state health officials were satisfied that the company had moved the drilling site sufficiently away from the landfill, based on a June, 2011 six-foot test drill over the site. Ranchers Exploration plans to move the drilling rig yet again to another site on the same property, ostensibly away from the old landfill.
The COGCC’s field inspection of the drilling site concluded that Ranchers Exploration failed to follow “most best management practices for drilling sites,” e.g., failing to build secondary containment for “storm water runoff, sewage, chemicals and other toxins that might flow off the drilling pad.”
Read more →
CO Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R)
New Republican legislation has been introduced in Colorado that purely benefits the oil and gas industry. House Bill 1356, introduced by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), would punish local governments by withholding their severance tax dollars if they do anything that stands in the way of oil or gas drilling. Citizens in Sonnenber’gs district who are concerned about the negative health and environmental effects of drilling oppose the measure. The city of Sterling, Colorado also opposes Sterling’s bill, which prompted Sonnenberg to call Sterling government officials “greedy.” After Sterling city officials came out against his bill, Sonnenberg posted a Tweet to his Twitter account that read, “City of Sterling just testified they should get oil and gas money even if the city stops the industry from producing. Can you say greed?” Sonnenberg told the Colorado Statesman that opposition from cities doesn’t matter because governments don’t vote. “Maybe if governments voted, it would matter,” Sonnenberg said. Sonnenberg says his bill is about defending property rights, limiting government spending and encouraging new oil and gas drilling throughout the state. At a legislative hearing for the bill, no one testified support of the measure, but several people spoke out in opposition. It isn’t the first time Rep. Sonnenberg has worked to benefit the drilling industry at the expense of citizen and environmental health and safety. In 2008, Sonnenberg worked to block the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission from hiring 21 new employees to monitor the drilling industry’s compliance with new environmental rules. When contacted by email and asked if he is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a lobby group that accepts funding from Exxon Mobil and other energy industry interests, Sonnenberg dodged the question and ultimately refused to answer.
Main source: The Colorado Statesman, May 4, 2012
Damage from the 2011 Oklahoma quake
A six-fold increase in the frequency of Richter-scale 3.0 and greater earthquakes occurring in the middle of the country correlates with increase in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” occurring in those locations. In a new paper, scientists present a series of examples in which a significant increase in seismic activity occurred in areas where oil and gas producers increased their disposal of wastewater in deep injection wells. Between 1970 and 2000, the central area of the country averaged 21 earthquakes per year. In 2009, that average jumped to 50, in 2010 it increased to 87, and in 2011, the average rose to 134 quakes per year. While most of the earthquakes are fairly small, the 5.6 magnitude earthquake rocked Oklahoma last year and damaged buildings and increased speculation that injection wells in the area might be a cause. It was the largest earthquake ever to strike Oklahoma, an area without a reputation for earthquake activity. The summary of the new earthquake study from the University of Memphis, says, “Based on the previous injection history, proximity of the wells to the earthquakes and the previous seismic activity in the source area, the M5.6 earthquake [in Oklahoma] was possibly triggered by fluid injection at these wells.”
Main source: Colorado Independent, April 16, 2012
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
A radio ad playing in Colorado features Governor John Hickenlooper promoting the environmental safety of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the drilling process the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found responsible for contaminating groundwater in Wyoming. Hickenlooper made the ad for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the lobbying group for the oil and gas industry. In the ad, Hick claims that since 2008, “…we have not had one instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing” in Colorado. Unfortunately, that claim is easy to verify as a lie. On September 13, 2011, an article ran in the Denver Post titled “Drilling spills rise in Colorado, but fines rare.” The article stated, “Colorado’s wave of gas and oil drilling is resulting in spills at the rate of seven every five days — releasing more than 2 million gallons this year of diesel, oil, drilling wastewater and chemicals that contaminated land and water.” In August, 2011, Kerr-McGee, a subsidiary of Andarko Petroleum, not once, but three times released cancer-causing benzene and other chemicals in spills that contaminated both land and water. Even a report (pdf) issued by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission describes the August spill as “historic,” and acknowledges that it did in fact cause groundwater contamination. The report states the COGCC assessed over $1.6 million in penalties on the drilling industry “for violations associated with spills and releases” from drilling activities in Colorado.