Garfield County to tackle oil and gas bill
November 6, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Whether or not there should be new federal oversight of the oil and gas drilling industry, partly aimed at forcing the industry to disclose exactly what chemicals it is putting into the ground, will take center stage at the Garfield County commissioners meeting on Monday.
The board of county commissioners has been asked by various organizations to take a formal position concerning proposed federal legislation that would, in effect, place the oil and gas drilling process under the oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Commissioner Mike Samson of Rifle is expected to offer a resolution on the matter for the commissioners to consider, according to the meeting’s agenda.
The bill, known as the FRAC Act (for Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act) was introduced last summer in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
If passed it would end a specific exemption of gas and oil drilling operations from the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act, which is enforced by the EPA, and would require companies to reveal all the chemicals used in frac’ing, but not the “proprietary formulas” used by the companies.
The requests to the Garfield County commissioners have been from across the political spectrum, from the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, which asked the commissioners to endorse the act, to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group that is opposing the legislation.
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Proponents of the FRAC Act say the industry must be forced to disclose exactly what chemicals it uses in the “hydraulic fracturing” process, also known as frac’ing. The process involves the injection of thousands of gallons of water, sand and chemicals down into a well and out into the subterranean rock formations, to break up the tight formations and allow the gas or oil to flow more easily to the surface.
Critics of the gas industry say frac’ing injects toxic chemicals into the ground that are contaminating underground water supplies, and that the exposure to those chemicals is making some people quite sick.
The industry, however, maintains that there is no proof that its practices are making people sick, and argues that the states can regulate frac’ing better than the federal government.
Colorado’s regulations are among the most stringent in the nation, thanks to recent revisions, and require the industry to provide a list of the chemicals used in frac’ing to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. That information can then be forwarded to local or medical officials under certain circumstances.
Unlike the FRAC Act, Colorado law has no provisions for making the lists public.
And other states, according to proponents of the FRAC Act, do not have sufficient laws in place to safeguard the public’s health and safety.
Garfield County’s oil and gas liaison office has posted a list of chemicals, provided by Antero Resources, on the county’s website (under the county department’s drag-down menu).
The text on the website cautions readers that “a given company may use all or none of these constituents in a given frac fluid. This is intended solely to give the public an idea of what may be used.”
Contained in the list are several chemicals that are said to be known carcinogens, and at least two with the cautionary statement, “Severe over-exposure can result in death.”
At a Nov. 5 meeting of the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board, a resident asked why the industry is resisting the legislation.
“If it won’t hurt us, why are you fighting the FRAC Act?” asked Sandy Sekeres of Rifle.
In response, Scot Donato of the Bill Barrett Corp. energy company, along with Judy Jordan of the Garfield County oil and gas liaison office, said that the oil and gas and related substances that are found naturally in the ground are hazardous to human health.
And industry officials have long held that the FRAC Act represents unneeded regulation of private enterprise.
The discussion at the Nov. 9 county meeting is scheduled for the midmorning portion of the agenda, which begins at 10:15 a.m.
Samson had not submitted anything in writing regarding the discussion, and could not be reached for comment on Friday.