GarCo commissioners show resolve on drilling spill, but not yet on FRAC Act

The Garfield County commissioners Monday did decide to fire off a strongly-worded resolution condemning contamination of drinking water by the natural-gas industry. It just wasn’t the resolution some people expected.

Despite some speculation the commissioners might vote Monday on a resolution of support for the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act, a measure introduced by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver) and co-sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder), the commissioners actually decided to take on the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette

According to the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the two Republican county commissioners, Mike Samson and John Martin, voted Monday to draft a resolution urging the COGCC to move quickly to clean up toxic chemicals in Prather Springs on private property between DeBeque and Parachute in western Garfield County.

A private consulting firm, according to the paper, narrowed down the source of the contamination to nearby drilling operations being conducted by two companies, Williams and OXY. Both deny being the source of the BTEX that poisoned outfitter Ned Prather and sent him to the hospital in the spring of 2008.

Democratic County Commissioner Trési Houpt reportedly recused herself from deliberations on the Prather Springs resolution because she also serves on the COGCC, but she told the other two commissioners to “do what you need to do” to get some action in the case, saying later that local governments have to stand up for the rights of their constituents.

The COGCC does not support the FRAC Act, which would remove a Safe Drinking Water Act exemption granted the process of hydraulic fracturing during the Bush administration in 2005. Derisively dubbed the “Halliburton loophole” after the company that perfected hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the exemption allows oil and gas companies to keep chemicals used in the process secret for proprietary reasons.

Critics claim fracking has in numerous cases led to contamination of water wells and other groundwater supplies, although industry officials claim it is an entirely benign process. The commissioners last month put off a FRAC Act resolution after viewing the documentary “Split Estate,” saying they needed more time to deliberate. Martin opposes a resolution of support; Houpt favors one; and Samson seems undecided.

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