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April 18, 2014 08:31 AM UTC

Don't Even Study Fracking? Really?

  • by: Colorado Pols
Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis
Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

​The Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reports on passage yesterday of House Bill 14-1297, a bill to study the health impacts of hydraulic fracture drilling ("fracking") in certain affected Front Range counties:

The Colorado House approved a controversial bill Thursday that some Republicans believe is designed to give opponents of hydraulic fracturing fodder to ban the practice in the state…

The measure, HB1297, cleared the House on a 38-27 vote. It calls for a study of the health and “quality of life” impacts of hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells.

Although the bill, which heads to the Senate for more debate, confines that study to six Front Range counties around the Denver metropolitan area, it is seen by some Republicans as a plan by Democrats to slant it to be anti-fracking.

Interestingly, a single Republican legislator did vote in favor of this bill yesterday, outgoing Rep. Jared Wright of Fruita. We've been hard on Wright over the scandals that nearly cost him election in the first place and appear to have now ended his brief legislative career–not to mention leaving a loaded gun unattended in a Capitol committee hearing room–but we'll be damned if Wright doesn't make perfectly good sense regarding this bill.

“We want to know that we’re not just blindly going forward with technology. That we do it the right way,” Wright said. “I believe it can be done the right way, and frankly, I don’t have a doubt that it is being done the right way. I think the results of this study will be that our operators are doing their jobs and doing it in the careful way that we ask them.”

Rep. Wright tells Ashby that while he shares traditional GOP skepticism about government studies, he has "read this bill in-depth and I feel like it’s well laid-out, and I think it’s certainly the intention that it’s done the right way." Obviously, if Wright is right, Republicans and their energy industry benefactors have nothing to fear from an objective study of the health effects of fracking in Colorado. It will reinforce the argument they make about the safety of the practice. And if Wright is wrong, and fracking is not being done "the right way"…what responsible lawmaker would argue against finding that out?

We ask rhetorically, since 27 Colorado Republicans voted against this bill yesterday.


26 thoughts on “Don’t Even Study Fracking? Really?

  1. If the chemicals used to frack weren't enough reason to draw support for a study, now we get to add radiation.  From Scott Radig, director of the North Dakota Health Department’s Division of Waste Management.

    "The issue is shale rock, the dense formations found to hold immense reserves of gas and oil. Shale often contains higher levels of radium — a chemical element used in industrial X-ray diagnostics and cancer treatments — than traditional oil fields"

    "Freeing gas and oil is a water-intensive process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which drill bits cut thousands of feet through shale fields to make way for high-pressure water streams that pulverize the rock. The process displaces radium-tinged subterranean water that comes up through the wells, where it can taint soil and surface equipment. Radiation levels can build up in sludges at the bottom of tanks, pipeline scale and other material that comes in extended contact with wastewater.

    Some states allow the contaminated material to be buried at the drill site. Some is hauled away, with varying requirements for tracking the waste. Some ends up in roadside ditches, garbage dumpsters or is taken to landfills in violation of local rules."

    1. I'm no expert, but that sounds a bit overstated. No doubt, Ralphie will correct me if I'm wrong. smiley

      Radium is a decay product of uranium with a relatively short half-life. So you won't find more radium than uranium. While shale tends to have more uranium than many other rocks, it's generally not regarded as a hazardous material. 

      Radium decays to form radon (a gas), which can accumulate in confined spaces. This requires some mitigation. I imagine that a freshly fracked well could release a fair amount of radon (the same way it releases natural gas), but this would rapidly dissipate away from the well site. It could, however, present an occupational hazard for drillers and roughnecks. 


      1. I think it's reasonably accurate, ajb.  But here's a little more from an O&G standpoint.  Radium tends to accumulate at the bottom of well casings.  It's fairly soluble in reducing conditions, but when the hydrogen sulfide in formation water oxidizes, the radium precipitates out as radium sulfate.  And it accumulates in evaporation ponds where production water is evaporated.

      2. Ra-226 has a half-life of just over 1600 years and while it is indeed less abundant than Uranium, it is also 2.7 million times more radioactive in part because of the difference in half-life. Radium is the substance that was banned as a luminescent paint back in the 1960's due to its strong radioactivity – and its acceptance into the body as a Calcium substitute.

        If the fracking process concentrates it and it winds up on equipment and clothing – yeah, that's not so great. I'm guessing the North Dakota Division of Waste Management isn't overloaded with flaming liberals; if they're concerned, we should all be.

        1. And it's an alpha emitter.  Alphas are big heavy particles (helium nuclei) that won't even go through a sheet of paper, but when inhaled or ingested they can do a lot of damage.  The ladies who worked in radium dial factories used to lick the tips of their brushes.  Many of them ended up with tongue cancers.

  2. Looking for consistency in statements from industry is futile.  To whit, local control: On one hand oilies say: '"ractivists want to fool Coloradans into voting for something they know will never pass (a 'fracking ban') via local control," and on the other they say: "OMFG! Local control = a total statewide fracking ban and we will all freeze in the dark jobless."   So the obvious question arises: if Coloradans statewide won't follow crazy Peoples' Republic of Boulder's (and Longmont, and Broomfield, and LaFayette, and Ft Collins) lead since it's too extreme, why is local control a threat at all?  

    "Hmmm.  …………LOOK!  LOOK!  Did you see the press release on our new astroturf group?  Colorado Mother-Frackers? ??"

    1. There was a lit drop in my mail box this week that may well be the largest ever that I've received.  It's from those folks who just want lots of playgrounds for our children with acres of green greass and pure, fresh water flowing from the outdoor water fountain, Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development.  I'm not kidding, it's about 8" x 14", full color, heavy paper with a near-laminated feel.  Picture of POTUS on one side with his January 28 quote from SOTU; the flip side a beautiful, remote mountain lake with the words, "….preserve our planet for generations to come".  And, they have an 800 number for you if the ad slick didn't get you hook, line and sinker.

      I'm all for responsible energy development – a holisitic system that not only includes the kinds of controls, local and state, that protect our natural environment – but one that pays a just severance tax.  That would be the 'responsible' thing to support.

    2. I'm not going to dive in to these numbers today, but from the Colorado Consumer Coalition webpage:

      So are they trying to convince Coloradans the industry employs 600,000 people at an average wage of $23.16?  I understand all they really want is to make sure our monthly electric bills don't go up and all – with a 'Trojan Horse' plot twist ala Local Control:

      To be sure, they stand to devastate the state’s economy; however, our main concern in the light of our mission—protecting consumers—is the effect that shutdown on traditional energy development would have on power rates. Rest assured, they would skyrocket.

      Oh, the subterfuge money can buy….


      1. There are 2,243,000 workers in Colorado. Doing the math, one finds this claim is that more than one of every 4 workers in Colorado works in the oil and gas business.

        The things you learn….

        1. Come on now, Duke…workers doing oil changes, waiters and waittresses putting olive oil on salads, gas station clerks, oil masseuses, oxygen tank fillers and deliverers…surely these can be counted as working in the oil and gas industries?

  3. You realize, of course, that this was probably just a thumb in the eye of his party; a vote made solely for vindictive reasons.  I think Wright is still smarting from being squeezed out.

    At any rate, I'm glad the bill passed.

  4. Years ago, I foolishly dated a young man who thought it was clever to say, "Don't ask the question if you don't want to hear the truth.". 

    Studying the health effects of fracking seems like a no brainier to me. How can we regulate safely if we don't have all the answers. Being afraid to study the issue infers that those who voted against this study already know there are harmful effects from fracking but ignorance is bliss. This reminds me of last year when Sen. Irene Aguilar carried a bill creating an interim committee to study the state implementing a health care cooperative. Even the Democrats were afraid and killed it. But how do we understand anything without serious inquiry first?

  5. Where does anyone think the Koch boys and their ilk want to dump the waste chemicals from their other operations??? Why can't we get a list of chemicals that are being injected into our water??? I don't believe there is a "secret" ingrediant in their injection material…other than they are probably banned by the EPA…and the clean water act…

  6. The oil and gas industry is exempt from the Clean Water Act…and the Safe Drinking Water Act. There are, in fact, many "secret" ingredients in fracking fluid. You cannot get a list, because those recipes are considered "proprietary" and can be protected from disclosure.

    Davies' suggestion is just right…"What you don't know, can't hurt me"…a polluters credo if I ever heard one.

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