03/14/2012 02:36 pm ET

Gov. Hickenlooper's Fracking Ads For Colorado Oil And Gas Industry Draw Heat From Environmentalists

Fracking, the practice of injecting highly pressurized mixtures of fluid deep underground to release oil and gas trapped there, never fails to evoke passionate responses. Many environmentalists maintain the fluids are carcinogenic, leading to tainted tapwater, poisoned groundwater, and sickened inhabitants in the area. Industry advocates dismiss these charges as unsubstantiated.

While the unintentional impacts of fracking may be difficult to prove, the link between illegal disposal of fracking materials and environmental damage is not. The Fort Collins Coloradoan reports officials there are investigating the possible illegal dumping of fracking-related radioactive sand at an oil well near Grover.

The incident comes as public awareness of fracking and potential fracking-related health risks reaches an all time high. In late February, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper recorded a 30-second public service announcement for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA). The ad touts Colorado's "toughest and fairest" hydraulic fracturing rule in the nation, and reminds listeners "we have not had one instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing, and we plan to keep it that way."

At first blush a fairly innocuous ad: everyone involved gets a pat on the back, especially the fiercely opposed conservation and gas industries.

But environmentalists have been quick to call shenanigans. Thirteen advocacy groups have since sent Hickenlooper a letter highlighting the danger "accidental spills, corroded tanks and pipelines, and leaking containment pits" pose to Colorado's groundwater in addition to the dangers of fracking itself. Indeed, the Denver Post reports that since 2000 there have been more than 3,900 such spills.

An Executive Order signed in the midst of this has done little to quell the controversy. The order creates a commission to clarify the power local governments have in regulating oil and gas operations. "Once one county wants their own regulations, every county's going to want their own regulations, and that's going to force the oil and gas industry out of Colorado," Hickenlooper explained to Fox31.

And, despite standing firmly in support of some fracking in Colorado, Hickenlooper has since apologized for the PSA, telling Fox31 the spot was intended to "celebrate" the effectiveness of Colorado's fracking regulations, not to mislead listeners and disguise the potential dangers of drilling.

The COGA, meanwhile, has no plans to pull the ad, telling the Denver Business Journal "We stand by the ads, and we call them public service announcements."