Oil and gas industry reps attack FRAC Act survey

Oil and gas industry representatives this week continued to assail a phone survey in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District showing overwhelming support for federal regulation of a natural-gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-CO1
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-CO1

The survey of 504 registered 3rd district voters, conducted for two environmental groups by Boulder-based Harstad Strategic Research and released last week, found 67 percent of the sampling favor passage of the FRAC Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Denver.

“Suffice to say there are myriad problems with this poll, including the sample size, methodology, and pollsters who brag how they ‘helped Barack Obama achieve his historic victory,’” Colorado Oil & Gas Association spokesman Nate Strauch told The Colorado Independent. “Not to mention that fracking is a highly technical procedure that can’t adequately be explained in a two-question survey.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves high-pressure injections of water, sand and undisclosed chemicals to force open tight geological formations and free up more natural gas. The FRAC Act would remove a Safe Drinking Water Act exemption granted under the Bush administration and require full disclosure of the chemicals used in the process, which critics say can contaminate groundwater supplies.

Strauch was referring to this statement on the Harstad Strategic Research website: “In 2008, we helped Barack Obama achieve his historic victory. We polled in the critical Iowa caucuses, and a dozen other primary states, before providing polling and analysis in nearly a dozen battleground states in the general election.”

But Gretchen Nicholoff, president of the Western Colorado Congress — one of the two groups Harstad conducted the polling for — sharply defended the methodology and the findings.

“The oil and gas industry can’t refute the message, so they attack the messenger, and even the entire science of polling,” Nicholoff said. “We urge everyone to judge for themselves by going the worc.org to read the survey questions and findings.”

COGA’s Strauch said the FRAC Act would add an unnecessary slew of federal regulations that will jack up natural gas prices and cost industry jobs in Colorado. Strauch added COGA has not conducted any polling of its own on the subject.

“The fact is, clean air and water are important to all Coloradans, including the 70,000 men and women involved in the responsible development of clean-burning natural gas,” Strauch said. “Fracking is adequately regulated by the state, and boasts a flawless safety record over the last six decades. The FRAC Act is nothing more than a superfluous layer of federal bureaucracy that would accomplish nothing but to raise our energy bills.”

Nicholoff countered that the fracking survey results show a wide range of residents in the 3rd district, which spans most of Colorado’s Western Slope, support the legislation.

“The poll results show that the Coloradans on the Western Slope, from all walks of life and political persuasions, believe that the oil and gas industry should not be exempt from laws that protect our drinking water,” Nicholoff said. “Coloradans absolutely want clean water and we have the right to know what potentially harmful pollutants may be injected in our land and water.”

Susan Alvillar, a spokeswoman for Williams Corporation, one of the most active natural-gas producers on Colorado’s Western Slope, also questioned the sample size of the survey.

“In fact, 67 percent of 504 voters are in favor of the act,” Alvillar said. “There are over 360,000 voters in the Third Congressional District, which makes the number sampled — .1 percent — a very small number. Williams has fracked over 3,000 wells in the Piceance Basin and never had an issue with frack fluids contaminating shallow aquifers. We believe that the Colorado rules more than adequately protect shallow aquifers.”

State officials say new, tougher drilling regulations requiring chemical inventories allow them to better regulate hydraulic fracturing than the federal government, but a growing body of evidence suggests fracking may at least require additional study. As for jobs, proponents of the FRAC Act say industry claims that the bill will have dire economic impacts are grossly exaggerated.

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