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BoCC weighs in on ‘fracking’ practices

Archuleta County government is weighing in on the statewide discourse concerning the practice of hydraulic fracturing, also commonly known as fracking.

Fracking is a process in which a special blend of chemicals, a liquid, is pumped in a well under pressure, cracking the underground rocks and allowing for an increased flow of oil and natural gas.

In August, Gov. Hickenlooper announced plans for disclosure rulemaking as a means of achieving transparency from oil and gas companies and as a method to increase public trust in the industry.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is slated to begin hearing information in early December, prior to developing COGCC rules on the disclosure of fracking chemicals.

To chime in on the matter, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners approved a letter to be sent to the COGCC during their Monday morning special meeting.

The letter was written, and read at the meeting, by County Attorney Todd Starr.

“Archuleta County is pleased that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is pursuing rulemaking regarding the public disclosure of chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing,” the letter begins.

The letter states that the county is in favor of the creation of a chemical disclosure registry.

Such a registry exists on a nationwide level, but on a voluntary basis, at fracfocus.org, however, as of Tuesday morning, no wells in Archuleta County were included on the site. The site is sponsored by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas.

The BoCC letter states that the registry should not be posted on a trade association website, but that the registry should appear on the COGCC website.

“If the disclosures are to be pursuant to COGCC rules and pursuant to COGCC permits, the disclosures should be available from the COGCC website so that it is clear that they are public records, subject to the Colorado Open Records Act,” the letter states, adding that the FracFocus site maintains that information can be changed, removed or discontinued without notice.

The letter continues, noting it is possible to maintain trade secrets while being transparent.

“Archuleta County can and does acknowledge there is value in protecting legitimate trade secrets. We believe the COGCC can and we would support the COGCC in the creation of regulations which create trade secret protection,” the letter states, adding that such regulations would also require operators to justify a trade secret.

The two-page letter continues, stating that operators should be held responsible for errors or inaccuracies from vendors or agents because they are the entity holding a COGCC permit, that 48-hour notice should be given to the COGCC and well landowner before conducting a hydraulic fracturing treatment, and that baseline water samples should be taken.

“While hydraulic fracturing fluids are injected thousands of feet below aquifers containing drinking water, the public deserves reassurance that if and when, and for whatever reason, these fluids are inadvertently released into the environment in a manner that causes contamination of soils at or near the surface and/or of drinking water resources, those responsible for the contamination are held responsible,” the letter states near its conclusion.

Each of the commissioners then provided a comment.

Commissioner Michael Whiting was the first to speak, citing possible accidents or situations concerning fracking fluids that could compromise the safety of responders.

Whiting noted that situations in which emergency responders or doctors administering emergency treatment are in contact with the fluid, being required to ask for permission to look at what chemicals are involved would take too long.

Commissioner Steve Wadley noted that responsible drilling would benefit Archuleta County and would affect the safety of the ground water.

Commissioner Clifford Lucero added that the BoCC was charged with the health, safety and welfare of county residents, that it would be “irresponsible” to not ask for chemicals to be disclosed, and that property owners and emergency personnel need to be notified of the chemicals used in a drilling operation.

Only local resident Jim Huffman commented on the topic, stating that he thought the letter was “excellent.”

“We’ve all learned, ‘trust me’ is not a viable position,” Huffman said, noting the topic was one that should be pushed.

The BoCC approved the letter unanimously.

randi@pagosasun.com

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