PLATTEVILLE, Colo. (CBS4) - Colorado Congresswoman Rep. Diana DeGette says federal regulation of a new drilling technique that uses fluid pressure to break open shale in the ground needs to be more strict.
With hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," companies in the state are going after previously untapped energy reserves of oil and gas in deep underground formations called the Niobrara.
The first oil and gas development done in Colorado was done in sand and it was a relatively easy process because the material was so easily penetrated, but the Niobrara is a lot more challenging because it's a harder medium.
A report issued last weekend by DeGette along with fellow Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts states that cancer-causing liquids are being injected into the ground at an alarming rate in parts of the state with hydraulic fracturing. It shows 1.5 million gallons were injected in Colorado during a recent four year period.
There are some concerns those liquids could contaminate groundwater supplies.
One thing is for certain: hydraulic fracturing has triggered a frenzy on the Front Range.
Noble Energy is one of the larger operators, currently with about 6,500 producing wells on the Niobrara. The company says only 1 percent of their fracking fluid is potentially hazardous.
Company spokesman Dan Kelly told CBS4's Paul Day Noble is taking multiple steps to protect the groundwater.
"We understand it is one of those boogeyman-type things, but we've done it for years," Kelly said as he showed Day metal pipes that act as a barrier to contamination.
Added to the pipe, he explains, will be a thick liner of concrete for double protection.
"This is what we use to contain those upper water aquifers to protect all fresh water acquifers in every operation we do out here," Kelly said.
DeGette told CBS4's Day drilling methods are never foolproof.
"If the casing of the well drilling rig cracks or breaks, then it can seep out," DeGette said.
Noble Energy insists the fluid they use and the process is safe.
"There are no instances where fracturing has infiltrated any water zones," Kelly said.
"I hope that's true -- that there fracking fluid is not seeping out," DeGette said.
DeGette is sponsoring new legislation to require energy companies to report any problems with groundwater contamination. Currently oil and gas companies are the only industry exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act.
"The problem is if there is contamination often times you don't find it out directly, so people might be getting sick but they don't know where it's coming front," DeGette said.
Increased drilling is tapping a much needed supply of domestic, not foreign, energy, and it's a big driver of the Colorado economy. DeGette told CBS4 she supports hydraulic fracturing on the Front Range but wants to make sure it's safe for the environment. That's why she says there should be a new law requiring the industry to say exactly what's being pumped underground.
Statement From Noble Energy
Jonathan Ekstrom, a spokesman for Noble Energy, shared the following comments after CBS4 aired this story:
"A couple of minor corrections I need to point out. 1) We actually use cement, not concrete as you stated, in our wells. It's a small difference, but an important one to our guys. 2) With regard to the Safe Water Drinking Act exemption, fracing has been exempt from the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) since 1974 because Congress determined then, and with subsequent updates of the law, that the UIC program was not applicable to fracing. However, industry must comply with the SDWA when the frac fluids are returned to the surface. Additionally, like all procedures surrounding the development of energy, hydraulic fracturing is already covered by hundreds of regulations. The Safe Drinking Water Act exemption for hydraulic fracturing does not eliminate the EPA's ability to become involved if necessary."
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