Three Colorado cities passed moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing on November 6th by surprisingly high margins. Residents of Boulder, Lafayette and Fort Collins all voted to reject gas and oil production through fracking. Though fracking has been around since the 1940s, it’s been a hot-button topic and the focus of environmentalists for more than a decade. That’s because a man named George Mitchell transformed the world of fracking in the 1990s with a horizontal drilling process that could tap into shale rock formations to release natural gas. After horizontal fracking took off, the U.S. experienced an energy boom. More jobs were created, the cost of energy went down and the economy thrived. But the longer this type of fracking took place, the more environmentalists became aware of some serious issues.
Fracking photo by Joshua Doubek on Wikimedia Commons
For one, the drilling process emits methane, which is far worse for the environment than the CO2 that power plants produce. Though its lifetime is significantly shorter, it’s still a major contributor to climate change. And now it seems fracking has also been linked to earthquakes in other states, such as Arkansas and Texas.
But for many, the biggest concern is that fracking uses a lot of water. In order to break down shale formations, water is laced with hundreds of chemicals and blasted into a well. Many believe the chemical-laden cocktail can seep into drinking water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently doing a study to better understand its impact.
In Colorado, the threat of water contamination grew even worse in September when floodwaters rushed through some of the state’s dense drilling areas, spreading oil, gas and wastewater.
More than 100 cities across the United States have already passed similar measures, according to the New York Times. But experts believe the battle over fracking in Colorado is just the beginning of a long political battle over the controversial drilling process.
The state has long been a place where drilling was widely accepted and oil and gas production boomed. But some say there’s a possibility that a statewide ban on fracking could make its way onto the Colorado ballet in 2014.
Others think the matter has been blown out of proportion. Lafayette’s last well permit was issued in the early 1990s, while Boulder plugged its last oil and gas well in 1999. And the state isn’t exactly a major player in the energy scene. Colorado produces 182,000 barrels of crude oil a day. Though it’s a substantial amount, it represents only 2.4 percent of total U.S. production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.
Paul Batistelli freelances in the energy field for the promotion of a greener society and energy means. He works to raise awareness on ecological issues, energy dependency, and reducing carbon footprints.