What the FRAC? Ritter backs more study over federal oversight

First he was accused of cozying up to the allegedly coal-crazed electric co-op Tri-State. Now Gov. Ritter is laying a big wet smooch on the admittedly dry (see Western Slope gas bust) lips of the oil and gas industry. Must be re-election time already.

Last week, just a couple of days before state Senate minority leader Josh Penry – a Grand Junction football hero and staunch defender of the “Old Energy Economy” – announced his run for governor, Ritter told a meeting of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association that more study of the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing is needed before the feds remove an exemption under the Safe Drinking Water Act granted in 2005.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is the increasingly common practice of injecting high-pressure water, sand and chemicals into gas wells to force open rock formations and free up gas. Congresswoman Diana DeGette, D-Denver, has introduced a bill to eliminate the exemption because of mounting anecdotal evidence around the country of groundwater contamination by nearby gas wells.

The industry has launched a massive campaign to turn back the so-called “FRAC” bill, including, according to geologist Dr. Geoffrey Thyne, putting pressure on scientists who even suggest more study and possibly federal regulation are needed.

The industry front Energy In Depth sent out an audio clip of Ritter’s statements, which fly in the face of DeGette’s bill but support the contention of Thyne, a former Colorado School of Mines research scientist, that more study is needed. Here’s a partial transcript:

“Also, at the federal level, [there has] been a great deal of discussion about the regulation of hydraulic fracturing, which you know is essential to the development of Colorado gas resources. Colorado rules are an excellent example of how states can and should act.

“I don’t for a moment discount the concerns of those who worry about protection of drinking water supplies. But I also believe that we have to understand the problems and the risks before we act. That’s why I encouraged Congresswoman DeGette to consider authorizing a comprehensive study of this issue instead of going directly to a new and potentially intrusive regulatory program.

“I had a good conversation with the Congresswoman, and we talked about what we had done with respect to the rules and what her amendment was likely to do in terms of trying to have a one-size-fits-all approach. We believe we addressed it, the states should address this issue one state at a time and she agreed at that time to go instead to something that would be more in the way of a study instead of an amendment that would prescribe a certain way of every state having to put in place these rules. I thank the congresswoman for having done that.”

All of this is an interesting lead-in to the two days of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission hearings in Glenwood Springs, scheduled for this week. The hearings will likely touch on the impacts of fracking in Garfield County, among other numerous topics.

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