Panel denies fracking study

Legislator sought review of chemicals, report of complaints

DENVER – The state will not get involved with a study of chemicals used in natural-gas drilling, legislators decided Monday.

Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs, wanted state agencies to review an upcoming federal study to see if hydraulic fracturing is affecting drinking water. He also wanted a report to the Legislature about the number of complaints to the state about fracking.

But Wilson’s House Bill 1172 died on a 4-8 vote in the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee.

The bill drew criticism from both defenders of the gas industry and its harshest critics.

Republicans on the panel said they think fracking gets a bad reputation that it does not deserve.

Wilson said his bill would have quelled public concerns.

“That is exactly why I think this bill is important. Without the public having confidence that we’re looking at the scientific information that’s coming out, the public’s choice is to increase their suspicion and superstition about what’s going on,” Wilson said.

Drillers frequently pump water, sand and chemicals into wells to fracture the underground rock formations and stimulate gas production. Environmentalists worry that the fracking fluid could contaminate drinking water, but in 2005 Congress exempted the fluids from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The controversy has raged ever since, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking a new look at the issue in a study to be done by 2012.

Environmentalists were split on the bill. The Colorado Environmental Coalition supported it, but the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, based in Durango, opposed it.

OGAP lawyer Alan Curtis said the group would like to see a detailed baseline study of water quality in order to be able to measure possible pollution from drilling. But he did not want to put the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in charge of the study, as Wilson’s bill did.

“Our experience with the commission has been that their primary motivation is to see that there is as much oil and gas production in the state as can be done. And the water quality concerns are secondary,” Curtis said.

The state’s oil and gas commission already is reviewing its database in light of federal information that showed some gas drillers used diesel fuel for hydraulic fracturing. That review was not part of Wilson’s bill.

Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, did not want the Legislature to get a report on complaints filed against the gas industry.

“I have a little problem with complaints from the public. You can complain about just about anything,” Brown said, noting that people have filed harassing complaints against his ranching operation. “This should not be able to happen.”

Brown and Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose – whose district covers part of Montezuma County – voted against the HB 1172.

jhanel@durango herald.com

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