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FRAC Act to be eyed at Garfield County Commissioners meeting

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Gas and oil drilling operations are expected to be in the bull’s eye at the Sept. 14 meeting of the Garfield County commissioners, when the topics will include a potentially explosive debate over a bill now before the U.S. Congress about the controversial gas-drilling procedure known as “hydraulic fracturing.”

The board of county commissioners has been preparing to take a position relative to the proposed legislation, known as the DeGette bill after one of its sponsors, Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver), which seeks to force the oil and gas industry to reveal certain secrets about its techniques as a way of ensuring public safety in areas where extensive drilling occurs.

According to one county staff member, county manager Ed Green recently directed her to seek the advice of an industry lobbyist concerning the language of a resolution to explain the county’s position.



Judy Jordan, the county’s oil and gas liaison, said that, per Green’s instructions, she contacted Kathy Hall of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a lobbying organization, and that Hall sent her three versions of a resolution on the DeGette bill that would be acceptable to COGA. Hall could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Green, who has been away on vacation, said at one point on Friday that he is unaware of any proposed resolutions that are up for discussion at the Sept. 14 meeting. Later attempts to recontact Green to corroborate Jordan’s comments were not successful, and other county officials said they knew nothing of a frac’ing resolution.



The BOCC’s agenda for Sept. 14 contains an item titled “Resolution on Frac’ing – Mike Samson” but no documents were included in the commissioners’ packet with details of a resolution, and commissioner Mike Samson could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The Sept. 14 meeting agenda also calls for appearances by a representative of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance to talk about the DeGette bill, which is formally called the FRAC (Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals) Act.

“I just want to make sure the public has all the information, and we can hold our county commissioners accountable for the way they vote” on the resolution and other matters, said Tara Meixcell of the GVCA.

Concerning the FRAC Act, Meixcell said, “I’m looking at this as an opportunity to say, here is our chance to do away with that exemption, which never should have been there in the first place.”

The bill proposes to eliminate an exemption from the federal Safe Water Drinking Act for the fluids used in hydraulic fracturing, or “frac’ing,” which the industry said is a critical procedure for getting at deeply buried deposits of oil and gas. Industry spokesmen also have noted that there has not been any direct evidence that frac’ing leads to contamination of water supplies.

The procedure calls for the injection of a massive amount of fluid, made up of water, sand and chemicals, into a well to break up the deep sandstone layers that contain the oil and gas deposits. Under an energy bill passed by Congress in 2005, frac’ing fluids are specifically exempted from the SWDA’s provisions designed to protect public water supplies from industrial pollution. A listing of some of the chemicals involved is available in some government reports, including one on the Garfield County website, but DeGette and others want to enact a federal law that makes disclosure of all the chemicals used, and their proportions, to government regulators.

Critics of the procedure believe it has caused chemical contamination of groundwater supplies in some areas, a concern which recently prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct testing on domestic water wells in the area around Pavillion, Wyoming, the scene of considerable oil and gas exploration.

Only one of the Garfield County commissioners, Tresi Houpt, has indicated support for the DeGette bill’s goals. BOCC chair John Martin has openly and adamantly derided the bill as and unnecessary layer of regulations, and commissioner Samson has indicated general agreement with Martin’s views but expressed an interest toward finding out more before making up his mind.

The frac’ing resolution discussion is to take place in the early part of the meeting, which begins at 8 a.m. in the commissioners’ meeting room at the Garfield County administration building, 108 8th St. in Glenwood Springs. Meixcell’s presentation is scheduled for the “regular agenda” portion of the meeting, which begins at 10:15 a.m.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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