Monday, September 12, 2016

Failure Of Colorado Anti-Fracking Initiatives Puts State's Water At Greater Peril

By now, most Coloradans would have become aware that two anti-fracking initiatives, designated Initiative 75 and Initiative 78,, failed to secure the requisite number of petition signatures to appear on state ballots November 8th. To refresh memories, 75 sought to give local governments the authority to limit or ban oil and gas development. 78 sought mandatory 2,500-foot setbacks between new oil and gas development and schools, playgrounds and hospitals, In each case, 98, 492 valid signatures were required. A total of 107, 232 were turned in for 75, but only 79, 634 were estimated verified. A total of 107, 232 were turned in for 78, but only 77, 109 were estimated verified.

The failure of both measures to make the ballot came after months of a costly and contentious grassroots campaign. Arrayed against the anti-frackers were well-funded, Koch brothers backed  industry groups which poured money into an opposing “decline to sign” effort. Also, anti-fracking activists say they faced harassment from opponents while trying to gather their petition signatures.

The  corporate-controlled Colorado Oil and Gas Commission said in a statement that “Coloradans have sent a clear message that they don’t want to resolve these complex issues at the ballot box." The truer take is that Coloradan voices were snuffed out, and the petition process scuttled by a determined propaganda and intimidation campaign sponsored by the Kochs and their state lackeys, allies. This is especially tragic given that the outcome means an ever greater assault on state water resources.

As noted in previous posts it's been confirmed for two years now that the gas and oil frackers are not only ruining our precious water supply here in the mountain West but depleting it as well.  According to a report published in the UK Guardian, "America's oil and gas rush is depleting water supplies in the driest and most drought-prone areas of the country, from Texas to California,".

This is extremely bad news given how our water resources are already depleted from drought as well as ever increasing demand from the half-dozen states that draw water from the Colorado River.  Of the nearly 50,000 oil and gas wells drilled since 2011 nearly two thirds have been in areas where water is scarce and 55% in drought-ravaged areas. But in addition to fracking depleting the water supply (one well requires from 3-5 million gallons of water) the process also entails injection of fracking chemicals,  two thirds of which are carcinogenic.

 Although some well paid PR hacks claim fracking effluent found in water is “safe” – most of us don’t buy it. According to Matt Lepore, head of the “Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission” (basically a PR cover for the oil industry):

"The whole point is that it is safe, that the harm to the environment has been minimized.”

 He was referring to the industry’s latest cleanup method of using mixing machinery and microbes on the affected soil.  But as a May, 2014, Denver Post study observes: “It is not proven”.

 In other words we have only the industry-front organization’s  words to go by. But given they are mainly devoted to the articulation and dissemination of PR,  can we trust them?  I think not.

 The Post expose found that 716,982 gallons of the petroleum chemicals spilled during the past decade have stayed in the ground after the initial cleanup. This has contaminated soil, sometimes spreading into groundwater- based on a Denver Post analysis of COGOC data. Incredibly, their maestro had the never to say the cleanup method was “safe” despite the Post finding the stuff is invading the soil, groundwater.  According to the Post (ibid.):

There’s about one gallon of toxic liquid penetrating soil every eight minutes.”
In addition, the Post notes: “drillers churn up 135 to 500 tons of dirt with every new well, some of it soaked with hydrocarbons and laced with potentially toxic minerals and salts.”

 Lost on the fossil fuel energy obsessives is a very simple truth: While there are energy alternatives to oil and gas, there is no alternative to water. Water, for every human, fulfills a basic survival need and there's nothing that exists in its place to serve the same purposes including hydration to prevent kidney failure, and also taking in enough to ensure proper bodily function - without also becoming ill by consuming it.

Having said that, it must also be acknowledged that if we demand adequate, unsullied water we may well have to notch down our energy consumption dramatically. You can think of it as a zero sum resource game.  As a first guide one can cite The Physicist's Desk Reference (Table C, p. 187, Energy Generation by Type) for which the most energy-intensive uses (aggressive consumption or category I) for all forms of solar, geothermal and wind are projected to total only 7 exajoules by next year. This compares to 23 EJ for oil, 16 for coal, 9 for natural gas and 5 for nuclear. Thus, ALL the usual "green" alternatives" are projected to barely add up to what nuclear will deliver on its own.

Also factored in we have H.T. Odum's solar "eMergy" (eMbodied energy) which measures all of the energy (adjusted for quality) that goes into the production of a product. Odum's calculations show that the only forms of alternative energy that can survive the exhaustion (or total replacement)  of fossil fuels are : human muscle application, burning biomass (wood, animal dung, or peat), hydroelectric, geothermal in volcanic areas, and some wind electrical generation. Nuclear power could be viable if one could overcome the shortage of fuel. No other alternatives (e.g., solar voltaic) produce a large enough net sej to be sustainable.

This means that at least in one respect the frackers may be correct.  That is, citizens may well find it preferable to sacrifice their soil, air and water quality in order to ensure they get the energy to run their cars, a-c units, Ipads, HDTVs, lawn mowers, smart phones and refrigerators.  Some may believe in their heart of hearts they can have both clean water and sufficient energy for their toys, but they are deluded - detached from energy reality.

The failure of the Colorado ballot initiatives to limit fracking may well speed the day of reckoning, when - as I warned two years ago- (Nov. 29 , 2014 post)  we will have to use recycled toilet or waste water. Already some locales (e.g. Aurora) are using  partially -treated waste water through river banks.  If fracking contaminates or diminishes most of our main water sources in the next decade or so this could become the norm, and "toilet to tap" will become part of our parlance.

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Publius said...

It's hard to tell what you're concerned about. Is it 1) possible water contamination by fracked oil wells, or 2) the consumption of water by wastewater injection wells.

For #1, oil exists in reservoirs below the ground because it is covered by impermeable cap rock. A hole is drilled through this cap rock, a steel pipe inserted, then cemented into place.This prevents oil from migrating to the surface, even if the rock is fracked.

For #2, this is a valid concern. The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission should require oil drillers to recycle their water. Oil companies are very skilled at separating oil from water. This is properly a statewide requirement, not one set by smaller jurisdictions.

Bonus: Every municipality should do make use of sewage as a water supply. Either by selling non-potable water for landscape irrigation, or by purifying it further for "toilet to tap."

Copernicus said...

FYI, I know all about the location of oil and accessing it as I used to work for an oil company before going into solar and space physics. But to your questions, my main concern is depletion of existing water sources in drought affected states, see e.g.

Contamination of ground water by fracked effluent is also a concern given how many carcinogens are associated with fracking fluid. Thanks to a trio of diligent Democrats: Henry Waxman of California, Diana DeGette of Colorado, and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, we now know the extent of the pollution of our precious watersheds thanks to the hydro-fracking industry.

According to their (2011) report, the product of an inquiry by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2010-11, fourteen of the nation's most active hydraulic fracturing companies used 866 million gallons of chemical fracturing products, and more than 650 of the chemicals named in the report were known carcinogens, supposedly regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. (Which was rendered toothless for fracking by lobbyists) Among the most toxic of the chemicals used (11.4 million gallons in all) were: benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene.

As we know from Devra Davis' landmark book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer, the first two of these toxic chemicals have well known correlations to brain carcinomas and chordomas. The other two, to liver, breast and prostate cancers. Davis' book is critical in blowing away the smokescreen that organizations like the American Cancer Society (ACS) have used for decades, in blaming people's eating habits and foods for cancers rather than toxic chemicals in the environment.

I DO agree with the recycling 'yuck' solution (sewer water), though even with that it is estimated we'll still be facing a shortfall of over 60 billion gallons if the state of Colorado's population keeps increasing at its current rate - and fracking wells continue their use of our precious remaining water.