GarCo commissioners put off FRAC Act resolution

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — An expected showdown over support or rejection of the FRAC Act by one of Colorado’s most drilled counties fizzled a bit Monday when the Garfield County commissioners decided to delay any resolution on the federal hydraulic fracturing legislation until they see a movie on the topic and take more public input.

(Photo/comscigrad, Flickr)
(Photo/comscigrad, Flickr)

Democratic county commissioner Trési Houpt, also a member of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, has shown support for the bill, sponsored in the U.S. House by Colorado Democrats Diana DeGette and Jared Polis. But Republican county commissioner John Martin has indicated he doesn’t think it’s necessary.

Republican commissioner Mike Samson, the third and perhaps deciding member of the board, while saying he is not taking a position that would reinstate Safe Drinking Water Act rules for fracking, did invite community activists concerned that the process is contaminating drinking water to speak at Monday’s meeting.

One of the key components of the FRAC Act — which stands for Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals — is full disclosure of exactly what chemicals are being injected into natural gas wells, along with sand and water, to force open tight geologic formations and free up more gas. Drinking water wells and creeks in gas production areas have been contaminated by methane and some chemicals, but industry officials say it’s not linked to fracking.

Gov. Bill Ritter and some scientists have called for more study of fracking before the EPA steps in to regulate the process.

“When the chemicals are undisclosed and non-regulated, what is there to study?” New Castle resident and community activist Tara Meixsell said. “The argument pretty much is that everything is fine and safe and there are no problems, so then why does it need to be undisclosed. If it’s fine and safe, then they should have full disclosure.”

Industry representatives say the chemicals used in the process are safe and need to be kept secret because they’re part of proprietary information that could give one company a competitive advantage over others.

Meixsell said she’s encouraged the commissioners agreed to see the upcoming documentary film “Split Estate,” which details the impacts of natural gas drilling in Garfield County. Meixsell, an associate producer on the film, mentioned one segment in which Colorado Oil and Gas Association lobbyist Kathy Hall talks about putting fracking fluids in her mouth.

“It would be a dream come true if we could all feel that way, that frack fluids straight from a truck would be fine to have in our mouth, but I’m not going to sit here and assume that an industry that has been tracked using toxic chemicals is going to self-regulate and still be undisclosed and assume that all frack fluids can be safely held in one’s mouth,” Meixsell said.

Locally, the cities of Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, as well as Pitkin County, have endorsed the FRAC Act. In the southwest part of the state, the city of Durango, as well as La Plata and San Miguel counties, support the bill. Also, two counties and three towns in New York, a town in Pennsylvania and a city in Texas support the legislation.

However, six Colorado counties, including some with the most natural gas reserves, oppose the bill — Delta, Mesa, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Morgan and Weld — as well as the towns and cities of Delta, Naturita, Nucla, Rangely and Grand Junction.

Also Monday, the Garfield County commissioners agreed to tentatively support the Thompson Divide Coalition, which opposes drilling on 122,000 acres of mostly roadless public lands northwest of Carbondale.

Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Aspen’s Wilderness Workshop, has been fighting for years to protect the area, including exemptions that would allow drilling in the area under the Colorado roadless rule.

“[The Colorado rule] is going to allow those leases to be developed and eviscerate the Thompson Creek roadless area, which is Carbondale’s backyard and a Colorado watershed,” Shoemaker told the Colorado Independent last year. “The citizens of Carbondale are like, ‘Over my dead body on that one,’ and they say things to me like, ‘Just tell me when it’s time to lie in front of the bulldozers.’”

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