DENVER State gas and oil regulators put their rules for hydraulic fracturing to the test Thursday by inviting an independent review board to offer criticisms.
A panel from STRONGER which stands for State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations spent the day quizzing Colorado regulators about the rules they passed in 2008.
Colorado requires companies to disclose the content of their fluids upon demand by state regulators, but the information is not public.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission invited the review, both to improve its rules and to increase public knowledge, said David Neslin, executive director of the COGCC.
Theres a need for state agencies to educate the public about energy realities. How is energy produced, and how is it regulated? Neslin said.
The STRONGER board will issue a report in two to three months.
Bruce Baizel of Durango joined five other STRONGER board members to conduct Thursdays review. The group includes environmentalists, gas industry officials and state regulators. It is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the American Petroleum Institute.
Baizel, a lawyer with the Oil and Gas Accountability Project, said he was especially interested in the source and disposition of the vast amounts of water used in frack jobs.
Fracking fluids are usually a mixture of water, sand and various chemicals that blow open fissures in rock formations to let natural gas flow up the well.
Until recently, companies have treated their frack fluids as a trade secret. A surge in public criticism over the secrecy has led some states to adopt stricter regulations.
Colorado passed its rule in the summer of 2008, around the time a nurse at Durangos Mercy Regional Medical Center fell gravely ill after she treated a gas-field worker for exposure to a frack-fluid spill.
Fracking has been going on in Colorado for decades, Neslin said. Its now ubiquitous and nearly every new well in the state is fracked, he said.
To date, we have identified no verified instance of hydraulic fracturing chemicals contaminating groundwater in Colorado. But I dont think that ends the discussion, Neslin said.
Some companies have begun using a voluntary website called Frac Focus, which discloses the contents of their fluids. To date, 21 companies that operate in Colorado have registered, and 360 wells are in the database already, Neslin said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill this week to require participation in Frac Focus or a similar website beginning in July 2012.
Colorado has no plans to mimic the Texas law, Neslin said.
About two dozen people from the Denver suburb of Aurora turned out to protest STRONGER and a proposal for drilling near their homes, including Sonia Skakich-Scrima, an organizer of the What the Frack? Commission.
Its all petro-dollars. Its EPA dollars. The purpose of STRONGER is to make sure federal regs will not apply, she said. Clearly, we need more regulation.
State oil and gas commission officials spent most of the morning giving a detailed presentation of their rules and practices. Debbie Baldwin, the environmental manager, talked about special rules for different parts of the state, including the infamous Project Rulison zone near Rifle.
Nuclear weapons were used to frack wells during the early 70s. We dont allow that anymore, Baldwin said.