Just say no to fracking

House damage in central Oklahoma from the magnitude 5.6 earthquake on Nov. 6, 2011. Research conducted by USGS geophysicist Elizabeth Cochran and her university-based colleagues suggests that this earthquake was induced by injection into deep disposal wells in the Wilzetta North field. (Image: Brian Sherrod, USGS)
House damage in central Oklahoma from the magnitude 5.6 earthquake on Nov. 6, 2011. Research conducted by USGS geophysicist Elizabeth Cochran and her university-based colleagues suggests that this earthquake was induced by injection into deep disposal wells in the Wilzetta North field. (Image: Brian Sherrod, USGS)

More by osmosis than intent, I’ve developed a very negative attitude toward fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, the practice of injecting fluid under pressure to fracture subsurface rock layers and release natural gas and oil. I’ve encountered reports sporadically over a period of several years that convince me fracking is bad for our environment and it’s necessary only if you are an energy producer looking for the cheapest way to extract more gas and oil.

For starters, no one outside the industry knows for sure what’s in fracking fluid, but there are widespread reports that the chemicals include carcinogens and other toxic chemicals that are harmful to humans. Injected below the surface, such chemicals can leach into groundwater and eventually into our drinking water. Some also escape into the air. Our governor (Hickenlooper) famously drank some fracking fluid to prove it was harmless (if you believe that’s what he drank). In any case, the law does not require disclosure of the chemicals used (trade secrets), so we’ve no way of knowing for sure.

We’ve all seen video of folks setting fire to the water coming from their faucets. Many reports say what burns is naturally occurring methane. Maybe, but fracking can also release methane that was previously trapped below the surface, so there is that to consider.

Fracking, by its very nature, requires a great deal of water. Energy companies buy the water from local sources, the same sources that supply water to cities and to farmers for crops and livestock. Out here in the West, water is a precious, often scarce commodity. I don’t see selling any of it to energy companies just so they can drill wells we don’t want.

Fracking requires a lot of noisy, dirty, damaging truck traffic to bring in and later remove drilling equipment and water. No one wants that anywhere near their home, business, school, etc., and yet it’s occurring in Colorado as energy companies encroach on city limits and residential areas in order to get at every available source of oil or gas. Local ads promise that a fracking operation leaves only a “garage sized structure” in its wake — but that, of course, comes after all the truck traffic and drilling.

Then there are the injection wells. While some fracking fluid is left in the ground when drilling is finished, much of it is removed and taken to injection wells, where it is pumped under pressure into deep underground storage basins. Research has shown that recent “earthquake swarms” in Oklahoma are most likely the result of these injection wells. Oklahoma, my home state, has had an active energy industry for decades (you’ve all seen photos of oil derricks on the capitol grounds), but the earthquake swarms are a new phenomenon, and the evidence points to the injection wells associated with fracking. We can learn from Oklahoma’s experience; we don’t need to repeat it Colorado or elsewhere.

Several cities in Colorado have banned fracking within their city limits. And who can blame them? Yet because energy companies have underground mineral rights, they want access, and they’ve sued the cities to gain that access. Would you want a fracking operation in your neighborhood?

There were to be four fracking questions on Colorado’s November ballot, two for and two against fracking, and I looked forward to voting against it. But Governor John Hickenlooper stepped in and brokered a complex deal to which both sides agreed, and all fracking questions were removed from the ballot. No matter. Should they return in 2016, I’ll still be voting NO.

For reasons I’ve yet to fathom, despite the fact that the fracking measures are no longer on our ballot, two different door-to-door fracking pollsters have come to my home in the last few weeks. In each case, I told them in no uncertain terms that I was against fracking and they left without even asking their questions. I hope every door that’s opened to them gets slammed in their faces. We don’t need fracking in Colorado, and we most certainly don’t need it pushing into our cities and towns. I’m all for energy independence, assuming such a thing is even possible, but not at the expense of our wildlands, our water supplies, our air, or our existing or developing cities and towns. The oil and gas industries are not some panacea of energy independence, even though they’d like us to think that. And some of their development (read: profits) comes at too high a price.

2 thoughts on “Just say no to fracking

  1. This one is as controversial as global warming, yet i rarely see coverage of substance. Fracking was touted as having negligible environmental impact and the best alternative to the openly destructive strip mining for oil shales… whopping lies for sure. Had read of the injection wells as causing the swarm quakes, but did not follow up as to what was involved. Alternatives to petroleum are there, albeit with inherent issues; seems like solving those problems (like hazards to wildlife, particularly birds) would better serve us all. Another area i worry about is the draining of the NA aquifers. Wish there was a way to redirect floodwaters to replenishing them… but sure don’t want to cause even more earthquakes. Our Earth needs help.

    1. It’s really tragic that no one in power seems to put Earth near the top of their priority list. I sometimes feel the Earth is a sinking ship, but rather than repair the leaks, the people on board just continue with their everyday lives, trusting that even though no one is fixing the leaks, the ship will surely make it to port. A few of them even insist that there are no leaks and that excess water in the bilge is perfectly normal.

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