Colo. gas official talks to Congress

WASHINGTON – A Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission official testified Tuesday before Congress about the state’s safety regulations for hydraulic fracturing and whether they adequately protect drinking water.

The hearing explored hydraulic fracturing’s potential impact on human health and the environment. Other states’ oil and gas regulators and an Environmental Protection Agency official also testified.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” is a process of recovering natural gas by pumping water, sand and chemicals into underground wells at high pressure. It has been used extensively to extract methane from coal beds in the San Juan Basin.

Some are concerned that the chemicals used in the process may be hazardous, particularly if they contaminate groundwater.

David Neslin, director of the Colorado commission, said state regulations of hydraulic fracturing ensure safety.

“Our current rules strike a responsible balance between energy development and environmental protection,” he said.

Such rules include requiring wells to be cased with steel pipe and surrounded by cement to ensure that fluids don’t leak into water aquifers. They also include requiring operators drilling into wells that are close to groundwater to sample the water before, during and after operations to make sure it’s not contaminated.

“These regulations are important, and they’ve substantially improved our groundwater protection,” he said.

Not a single instance of groundwater being contaminated by fracking has been verified in Colorado, he said. Independent analysis of water well samples from the San Juan Basin found no statistically significant increase in chemical concentrations, he said.

Lawmakers recently introduced bills in both the Senate and the House that would require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who is the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, argued at the hearing that such disclosure is necessary to determine whether groundwater contamination is occurring.

“I believe in disclosure. Let the facts come out, and we’ll make a reasonable decision,” she said.

The EPA is also studying the relationship between fracking and drinking water.

Karen Frantz is a student at American University and an intern for The Durango Herald. Reach her at herald@durangoherald.com

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