Colorado needs to be honest about the risks of fracking

Colorado has done a better job than some other states of updating its oil and gas rules, and the state should get credit where credit is due. But that's not a very high bar, and the rules are still not strong enough to ensure that Colorado residents have the protections from oil and gas development in their communities that they need and deserve. Clean air, clean water, health and quality of life are still at risk.

The industry for the most part opposes any new rules in Colorado, and the industry's rhetoric in Colorado is based on attempts to obfuscate the threats and discredit those who try to bring the truth to light.

In 2012 I blogged about Colorado's Governor John Hickenlooper starring in a radio ad for the oil and gas industry as part of the industry's efforts to convince Americans that fracking is safe. In the ad he stated that Colorado has not had "one instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing" since 2008--even though in one county alone there were hundreds of spills that impacted or contaminated groundwater between 2008 and 2011.

More recently, last week a newspaper reported that Governor Hickenlooper stated that .."the problem some people have with fracking is a matter of bad public relations on the part of the natural gas industry and a misunderstanding of what it really is among the environmental community." This again sounded like an industry ad to me, because I couldn't help but be reminded of the statement made by the former CEO of Chesapeake Energy three years ago about critics of fracking. He said "the low level of intelligence some people have about the issue is disturbing."

The industry line that those concerned about the risks of fracking are not intelligent or misunderstand the facts is not believable. Some of the best scientists in Colorado from six Colorado institutions (who are also some of the best scientists in the country) are currently investigating the risks under a major grant from the National Science Foundation. They're not investigating because they misunderstand the issue, but because there remain many scientific unknowns about the risks of fracking and if they can be mitigated. Among other things, they are investigating the potential risks of oil and gas extraction to groundwater and aquifer systems, air quality, and public health.

The U.S. EPA is also in the middle of conducting a major study to better understand the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. And top notch scientists around the country are doing additional research.

There is evidence from around the country of drinking water contamination caused by oil and gas activities, including suspicious links to fracking itself. Because state agencies have not thoroughly investigated these cases, and because of loopholes in federal laws, the public does not have the information it needs about the risks posed by all oil and gas activities, including fracking. Until it does, it's perfectly understandable that communites across the country will continue to try to restrict fracking within their borders to protect their health and quality of life. Americans want clean energy, not dirty energy, and they certainly don't want dirty energy where they live or farm or where their children go to school.

Trying to discredit those who raise legitimate questions in order to protect their families and their livelihoods does not answer any of the public's valid questions and only gets in the way of honest discussion about what we know and what we don't.