Houpt, gas industry rep debate FRAC Act issues | PostIndependent.com

Houpt, gas industry rep debate FRAC Act issues

John ColsonPost Independent staffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Just in case the Garfield County commissioners were getting ready to endorse federal legislation requiring disclosure of certain chemicals used in the gas drilling process, a gas industry representative this week argued forcefully against such a move.Kathy Hall, of the Western Slope Oil & Gas Association, told the board of county commissioners on Monday that the procedure known as hydraulic fracturing, or “frac’ing,” is “a very safe process,” and ended up in a short debate with commissioner Trsi Houpt on a variety of frac’ing-related topics. Hall said there is an effort by anti-industry forces, using “anecdotal evidence” and “scare tactics,” to convince Congress to create federal rules governing the procedure.Hall urged the BOCC to check out such informational sources as the “Energy In Depth” website, which is sponsored by a consortium of oil and gas producers, “to find the research that is accurate … on frac’ing.”She stressed that the oil and gas industries are “critical” to ending U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources, and that frac’ing as a technological process is vital to the industry’s capacity to get oil and gas out of the ground.The DeGette bill, sponsored by Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette and others, was introduced earlier this year in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Called the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals [FRAC] Act, it would place the frac’ing procedure under the control of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the 1975 Safe Drinking Water Act.In hydraulic fracturing, drilling companies force a mixture of water, sand and chemicals down a well to break up the rock thousands of feet below the surface. A major part of the FRAC Act would require that the ingredients of the frac’ing fluids be revealed to government regulators because of potential health and environmental hazards from certain compounds known to cause cancer.Proprietary information such as the exact recipe used by individual companies would remain secret unless needed for medical treatment of people exposed to the fluids.The practice of frac’ing was exempted from the SDWA in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, widely condemned by environmental watchdogs as a move by former Vice President Dick Cheney to do the bidding of friends in the oil and gas business.Hall maintained, as have other industry representatives, that there is “absolutely no evidence” that frac’ing has contaminated groundwater supplies, and argued that putting it under federal control would be harmful to the industry.County commissioner Trsi Houpt, breaking into Hall’s delivery at one point, declared, “I’m really frustrated” that Hall was characterizing the FRAC Act as intended to put a stop to frac’ing, which is not contained in the legislation as proposed.”But it puts a federal regulation on it,” responded Hall, adding, “You, as a member of the COGCC [Houpt serves on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission] should be the most offended” by what Hall termed a federal move to usurp state control.”The state regulates this,” she said, referring to the COGCC rules, which recently were updated and made more stringent than they had been. “It does not need a federal regulation.””I don’t agree with that,” said Houpt.”I know you don’t,” Hall shot back.Hall and a fellow representative offered a list of chemicals they said are used in frac’ing, although under questioning by Houpt they conceded that the list was not complete and that it lacked at least one of the chemicals used by Williams Production, a key player in the Garfield County gas drilling boom of the last several years.Houpt, pressing her point that the FRAC Act is intended only to give the government information that could be vital to emergency medical responders to a chemical spill or other disaster, noted, ‘We’ve seen a lot of human error, there will be accidents and there will be problems.”Hall and her partner asserted that the chemicals used in frac’ing make up only one half of one percent of the total volume of the frac’ing fluids, while the rest is water and sand. But under questioning they acknowledged that the companies typically use 150,000 gallons of frac’ing fluids per well, including 800 gallons of chemicals.”One half of one percent sounds like a small amount,” said Houpt, “but it’s a large volume.”Houpt also noted that the industry is suing the COGCC for its newly adopted regulations, although the agency is applying the new regulations to the industry’s activities anyway.”We have a safe drinking water act,” Houpt declared, “and I don’t think any kind of industry should be exempt” from that act.Hall then accused Houpt of having “this really direct conflict” in serving both on the Garfield County commission and on the COGCC.But Houpt rejoined, “We absolutely have to look at both sides of these concerns” and concluded, “I don’t see a huge conflict” between the state’s regulations and the proposed federal legislation.”We try really hard, especially states in the West, to regulate our own lives,” said Hall, challenging Houpt to “show me one time” where federal regulations had greater benefits to the public than state regulations.jcolson@postindependent.com

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