Hickenlooper: Anxiety About Fracking 'Isn't Directly Connected To Facts' (VIDEO)

06/20/2012 05:58 pm ET

Governor John Hickenlooper was invited to give the keynote address at The Atlantic’s Next Generation Energy Forum and, after opening with a methane fart joke from his 10-year-old, launched into a explanation of why he thought fracking has been taken "out of context."

[Hickenlooper begins speaking around 7:45 in the video above]

"There's a lot of anxiety out there, certainly with hydraulic fracturing and the kind of unorthodox technologies for the extraction of natural gas, but oftentimes that anxiety isn't directly connected to facts," Hickenlooper said during the forum.

Referencing recent articles that have appeared in The New York Times about hydraulic fracturing, HIckenlooper said he found them "way off base in terms of the reality of the situation."

A lot of the issues around anxiety and fear of compressed natural gas also have to do with the reality around the extraction. Obviously, hydraulic fracturing has been a big deal. You know when I was a geologist we did fracking, in 1982 as the first well I was ever on that we fracked. I, personally, was involved probably with 50 or 60 wells. There have been tens of thousands of wells in Colorado that have used hydraulic fracturing to increase their productivity and we can't find anywhere in Colorado a single example of the actual process of fracturing that has polluted groundwater.

Fracking problems are more likely to arise, Hickenlooper said, when there's not proper cement casing around the wells and there's degradation or when companies have accidents such as a fracking fluid spill.

Yet a recent report analyzing wells drilled in the Marcellus Shale published in the peer-reviewed journal Ground Water, found that the rock layers are not impermeable and predicted that fracking would speed up the movement of fluids underground and that more study needs to be done to analyze where fracking fluids move to after being injected.

Another report asserts that though the levels of man-made earthquakes due to fracking are low comparatively speaking to natural earthquakes, Colorado has three well-documented cases of a 5.0 to 5.5 man-induced earthquake stemming from an injection well.

From a report by the Southern California Earthquake Data Center discussing earthquakes in seismically inactive areas:

Support for this idea came in 1962 near Denver, Colorado, when an army project designed to dispose of waste water began pumping the liquid into a deep borehole, at high pressure. Over the next year, the seismicity rate in the area near this borehole began to skyrocket! Residents in the area worried about the correlation between this disposal method and the increase in seismicity, and the project was stopped. In 1969, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducted an experiment to investigate the possible correlations between injecting water into deep wells and changes in seismicity rate. They found that, indeed, the seismicity rate of an area could be increased by changing the water content and pressure in faulted rocks at depth.

It has been suggested that a network of boreholes and pumping stations could be set up along an active fault zone to effectively control the slip along that fault, and help it release the increasing stress in small, non-damaging earthquakes instead of in larger, more destructive ones. Toying with the forces of nature like this obviously presents a risk (suppose you triggered a very large earthquake instead?), but the more fundamental problem with this idea is that it takes a lot of small earthquakes to equal the energy release of a larger rupture.

In response to a question about the links between earthquakes and fracking activity however, Hickenlooper seemed largely unconcerned:

When you're drilling wells, before you ever frack, you should be able to tell exactly where you see these fault services and make sure you don't frack into it. When you push this fluid, the perception is, you know it's about 90 percent water, about nine-and-a-half percent sand and grit silt and then the last half a percent are the chemicals that create viscosity, and you push this under great pressure into formation. It goes down the well pipe and out through these little holes that open in the piping and people feel this is going to, you know, go up into ground water, push through. The amount of force we can generate to push a frack fluid out is a fraction of what the hydrostatic pressure is down these wells. So the chance of it really going through and rupturing the seal that's held this oil and natural gas in place so long, or go into lubricate a fault is quite unlikely.

In Erie, Colo., about 45 minutes outside of Denver, a "mom-powered group" called Erie Rising concerned about fracking near the community's elementary schools, held a march and rally at the beginning of the month calling on Hickenlooper to halt drilling operations.

They read aloud a letter to Encana Oil and Gas, which conducts a fracking site less than six hundred yards from Red Hawk and Erie Elementary schools.

"We have one wish for Mother’s Day," the letter begins.

On behalf of the Mothers of Erie Rising, we respectfully request that Encana Corporation halt all drilling operations at the Canyon Creek well pad. Please do not set up your drill rigs, hay bales and 24-hour lighting operations next to our children’s schools and playgrounds. Please do not transport your toxic fracking chemicals, millions of gallons of water, lethal flow-back water and sand in front of our schools and by our homes. Please do not make thousands of diesel truck trips on the streets where our children ride their bikes. Please do not violate our homeowners’ quiet neighborhoods with your 24/7 drilling operations and the legacy of potential dangers that will be left behind after the rig is gone.

In Colorado, oil and gas operations are required to be at least 350 feet from schools. But just today, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis introduced an amendment to the controversial Domestic Energy and Jobs Act that, if passed, would require that oil and gas operations be setback 1,000 feet from primary and secondary schools nationwide.

Environmental groups in New York are also demanding a halt on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's gas drilling plan, saying that until there is an independent study done assessing the public health and environmental impacts of fracking, "the state will simply not be in a position to make a decision as to whether fracking should be permitted in New York."

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