States Test Fracking Regulations
Colorado is the latest state to implement new laws
Ken Silverstein | Nov 19, 2013
States with a high interest in the oil and gas industries are stepping up their attempts to regulate the drilling process. The aim, in all cases, is to minimize environmental fears while creating jobs and wealth. Colorado, for example, is the latest test case, although some communities there are opposed to gas drilling.
The state has joined others such as California, Illinois and Pennsylvania in its attempt to oversee the hydraulic fracturing process used to break free the oil and gas from the rocks where they are sealed far beneath the earth’s surface. As for Colorado, it will use infrared cameras to detects leaks in its pipeline system, which is costly but which is needed to ensure local communities that they are safe. The oil and gas industry estimates that 110,000 jobs there are tied to those pursuits.
Nevertheless, four Colorado communities recently rejected attempts to allow such fracking, or drilling: Boulder, Fort Collins and Lafayette, were three. Two of those were already off limits, says the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. But the town of Broomfield also voted no, by a 17-vote margin, which means it will recount the ballots. It put a five-year moratorium on any drilling.
“Boulder and Lafayette were nothing more than symbolic votes. Lafayette’s last new well permit was in the early 1990’s and Boulder’s last oil and gas well was plugged in 1999. This election represents round one with many more rounds to come. These elections mobilized community members to educate their neighbors, and our support of their efforts is just beginning,” says Tisha Schuller, chief executive of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
There are more than 1 million wells fractured in the United States and there has been little credible evidence of water contamination, she adds. Colorado has the most comprehensive set of groundwater samples with over 2,000 wells tested in the San Juan Basin that demonstrate that hydraulic fracturing doesn’t pollute groundwater. She adds that numerous studies support such a thesis, notably ones from Yale and the University of Texas.
She points to the current U.S. energy secretary and Obama’s former EPA administrator, as well as Colorado’s governor, all of whom say that fracking can be done safely and the resulting gas finds would lessen greenhouse gas emissions. That’s because natural gas is cutting into coal’s marketshare.
“While our carbon emissions have been dropping, our economy has been growing. Our businesses have created 7.8 million new jobs in the past 44 months. It proves that the old argument that we can’t strengthen the economy and be good stewards of our planet at the same time is a false choice,” President Obama said in his weekly address to the nation this week.
Illinois, meanwhile, is considered to have among the toughest laws regulating the shale gas drilling process. That law, signed earlier this year, requires the wastewater that returns to the top after sites are explored must be stored in tanks. That is as opposed to open pits. If the tanks don’t have enough room, the water can then go into those pits before it would be reinjected underground.
Environmentalists want clearer rules on the size of the tanks as well as under what emergencies producers could store their overflow in such open areas. Industry, which must now test the water for impurities at every stage of production, says that it can rise to the occasion and that gas exploration could begin next year.
California, too, will allow access to its Monterey Shale formation. It stretches from Central California down through Southern California and holds 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil, says the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
California now produces nearly 10 percent of the nation’s oil, which is on par with that of Alaska. And next year, the Monterey Shale formation is open for business, although producers must gain permits and notify local communities, while also revealing the chemicals that they are using to frack. A year after the law has been in force, independent scientists will thoroughly evaluate its performance.
Furthermore, Pennsylvania is set to become the nation’s second leading natural gas producer this year. In 2011, it was seventh. The papers in Pittsburgh are reporting that the shale gas sector now employs 46,644 people in its metropolitan area. Its drillers produced1.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the first half of this year, which will double by year-end and which is up 58 percent from a year ago.
Finding that optimal point whereby communities are adequately protected and simulteneously, jobs and prosperity flourish is often a difficult task. While many green groups would say that the pace is too fast, most states with shale resources are giving their citizens a chance to cash in on the boom, with much-needed safeguards.