Colorado Ballot Initiatives Wrong on Fracking

Published July 18, 2016

Colorado activists attempting to effectively ban hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” are pushing a new campaign labeled “Yes For Health and Safety Over Fracking,” in which they falsely assert fracking causes health problems for people living near fracking sites, pollutes communities’ water sources, and “cooks our climate” with methane. All of these claims are demonstrably false, and Coloradans should be very wary of this pseudoscience that masquerades as concern for local health and safety.

In Colorado, fracking is primarily regulated by the state government, which has the resources and access to the level of scientific expertise necessary to understand the challenges posed by oil and gas development, as well as the power to ensure drillers comply with environmental regulations. Measure 75, one of two important ballot initiatives being pushed by fracking opponents, would change the state’s constitution to allow local governments to impose their own regulations on the industry. This might sound good on the surface, but only until one realizes local governments don’t have the resources to actually craft science-based regulations. In the end, Measure 75 is really all about allowing local governments to ban fracking and has very little to do with enacting reasonable regulations to protect the environment.

Measure 78, the second ballot initiative, is similar to Measure 75 in that it will inevitably lead to fracking bans while pretending to be about empowering local governments. This measure proposes a 2,500-foot setback of fracking operations from schools, hospitals, houses, and sources of drinking water. Again, this might sound reasonable at first, but it would effectively ban 95 percent of land from being used for energy development in the five most productive counties in the state, and there are already setbacks in place that protect human health and the environment.

Anti-fracking activists have long tried to link fracking to negative impacts on human health—only to come up empty handed time after time. Just recently, researchers claiming to have found a link between fracking and negative health impacts were forced to issue a retraction after it was discovered that their calculations were wrong and their new, more accurate results showed the exact opposite of their initial claims. It turns out fracking cannot be shown to increase the risk of cancer.

Similar studies attempting to link fracking to negative health impacts in Colorado have been similarly debunked. One study claiming fracking increased birth defects—conducted by the Colorado School of Public Health—was disavowed by Dr. Larry Wolk, the chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, because the researchers did not consider other risk factors, such as whether the pregnant mothers in the study smoked tobacco, drank alcohol, or had access to adequate prenatal care. Blaming fracking without accounting for these factors isn’t science, it’s a sideshow.

Many claims have also been made suggesting fracking pollutes water, a common occurrence since the film Gasland showed the world footage of a Colorado man lighting his water on fire—which the film says was made possible because of fracking. While this scene is powerful imagery, it’s also a complete forgery. The reason the man was able to light his water on fire is because his water well was created by drilling through a coal bed, which is a natural source of methane, which means he would have been able to light his water on fire whether or not fracking had ever been invented.

Additionally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted the most thorough study on the impacts of fracking on water to date and concluded there is no evidence hydraulic fracturing, or the activities associated with it, has caused widespread systemic impacts on groundwater quality. Yes, there have been incidences where oil and gas drilling has harmed water quality through surface spills or leaky well casings, but EPA has stated these incidences are rare compared to the number of wells drilled. As for methane, Colorado has already adopted some of the toughest emission standards for methane in the nation.

We all want to live in a clean environment, and fracking allows us to access the energy we need in an environmentally responsible way. Wind and solar energy sources are expensive, and combined, they generate little more than 2 percent of the United States’ total energy, whereas oil and gas account for 63 percent. We can either produce these sources of energy here at home, or we can import them from nations that may wish to cause us harm in the future.