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What The Frack – hydraulic fracturing explained

The debate over hydraulic fracturing rages on but debating the topic becomes difficult with the complexity of the process, news editor Kara Mason breaks down fracking for everyone to understand.



flickr | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

flickr | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Natural gas burns cleaner than both coal and oil, it emits less carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, and the U.S. Energy Information administration says when used in a combined cycle-power plant, natural gas emits less than half of the CO2 coal combustion does. 

Extracting this natural gas, however, is not so easy. ProPublica reports that nine out of 10 natural gas wells in America use hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, to obtain the energy source. 

Both the process and the regulations surrounding the industry have become controversial. Many environmental groups claim rules and regulations are not adequate enough to protect the community and environment, while many corporations are claiming their technology is safe. 



Citizens of Colorado communities that experience fracking find themselves in the midst of a debate saturated with jargon and the need for complex scientific understanding. Understanding the law requires understanding the science, which is difficult. Environmental impacts, health effects, and regulations have taken center stage while essential information and statistics remain scattered and muddied with rhetoric. 

Pueblo County will likely never experience fracking but for places like the San Luis Valley, the eastern plains and western slope, natural gas exploration is no stranger. According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in 2011, 80 percent of active natural gas wells were in just eight counties. 

Weld county has the most drilling with 17,388 wells. Other Colorado counties that have a significant number of wells include Garfield with 8,928, Yuma with 3,797, Las Animas with 3,066, and Rio Blanco with 2,095. Thirty-six other counties in the state have a combined 6,371 wells. 

Similar to national statistics, the COGCC says that over 90 percent of natural gas wells in the state use fracking. 

With drilling occurring in many Coloradoan’s backyards, and the debate around the subject is as complicated as the process, the biggest questions behind fracking have become what is truth, what is not and what is rhetoric. 

So, what is fracking, really?

Geologic formations, usually shale, limestone or sandstone, deep in the earth can hold pockets of natural gas. Decomposition of dead organisms within the rock creates the natural gas. In traditional drilling, gas makes its way naturally to porous rock where it can easily be sucked out of the earth. 

Due to the lack of permeability in the deep shale formations, the rocks must be fractured to release the gas. To achieve this, millions of gallons of water, accompanied by chemicals and sand are pumped into the earth with tremendous pressure, thus the term hydraulic fracturing.  

Fracking fluid, chemically and sand infused water, has become controversial for its ingredients. The chemicals are needed for lubrication of the casing as well as breaking down minerals in the earth. 

In 2012, ProPublica published a list of known ingredients of fracking fluid. Ninety-eight to 99.5 percent of the fracking fluid is water. However, what makes up the rest ranges from common household items to what ProPublica calls “just plain weird.”Methanol, pine oil, isoproponal (found in glass cleaners), diesel, instant coffee, lead, formic acid (used for tanning leather) and walnut hulls are among the ingredients found in the fluid., a chemical disclosure registry used by 10 states to track the chemical lists, states that there is not a “one size fits all” formula for fracking fluid because every company, geographic location and well is different. Some chemicals may be used to lessen bacteria growth while others are used for lubrication. 

Fracfocus indicates the number of chemicals used in fracking fluid for any given well ranges between three and 12. 

It should be noted that a report done by the Harvard Law School in April indicates FracFocus makes it too difficult for states, including Colorado, to track if companies are submitting their chemical lists. It was reported by the Associated Press that FracFocus creates loopholes and makes it possible for operators “to avoid sharing information required by state law.”

Though regulations vary from state to state, Colorado law requires all operators to maintain material safety data sheets for any chemical brought to a well site. 

Operators are also obligated to “maintain a chemical inventory for any chemical used downhole, in cumulative amounts exceeding 500 pounds in any quarterly reporting period,” according to COGA. 

If physicians or health professionals request the chemicals used in fracking fluid, an operator must oblige. Trade secrets also must be handed over to the COGCC per Colorado law only if the director states the information is necessary in the event of a spill or public health impact, otherwise they are not can remain disclosed. 

COGCC keeps records, reports and inventories on file for at least five years.  However, state law dictates that chemical lists are kept on file for the life of the well plus an additional five years after the well is plugged and abandoned.  

Since the 1940s, when drillers first began using the process, fracking has occurred in around one million natural gas wells. They first started in limestone and sandstone formations but have since become more frequent in shale formations. 

COGA lays out a basic timeline for a typical site that uses fracking. Oil companies must first apply a permit from the state to drill from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Committee. COGA reports, “this includes well design, location spacing, operation, water management and disposal, air emissions, wildlife impact, surface disturbance, and worker health and safety.”

The COGCC strongly suggests an operator submit a Comprehensive Drilling Plan that lays out “foreseeable oil and gas activities in a defined geographic area, facilitate discussions about potential impacts, and identify measures to minimize adverse impacts to public health, safety, welfare and the environment.” Drilling plans are not mandatory, however. 

After the permit is obtained site preparation usually lasts seven to 14 days. On a plot of five acres, this process includes constructing roads and clearing the well-pad site.  

Regulations prevent drilling less than 150 feet from any property line, building unit, public road or aboveground utility line. If the area around a well is classified as a high-density area regulations become stricter.  

Next the well is drilled, this lasts three to four days for a vertical well and 10-15 days for a directional well. Wells are drilled with fresh water and bentonite clay. Casing is also installed at this time.  

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that “vertical well sections may be drilled hundreds to thousands of feet below the land surface and lateral, or directional, sections may extend 1,000 to 6,000 feet away from the well.”

Colorado law requires three different types of casing to line the wellbore, the hole drilled by the bit.

Conductor casing, COGA calls this the first string of casing in the well, is cemented into place and is meant to keep soft formations closer to the surface from caving in and “to conduct drilling mud from the bottom of the hole to the surface when drilling starts.”

Surface casing, which comes after conductor casing, extends hundreds to thousands of feet into the ground. This casing extends beyond all known drinking water sources. 

Production casing is the innermost casing. This isolates the producing interval. 

This casing must pass a survey, the cement bond log which tests the hardness and quality of the production casing. 

The entire casing construction is tested with pressure greater than what is expected to occur with fracking to “ensure the finished wellbore’s integrity,” according to COGA. 

COGA reports that hauling lasts anywhere from 35-40 days, but depending on the time schedule and the contractor there may be days where there is no hauling after drilling. 

Propublica reports, “Roughly 200 tanker trucks deliver water for the fracturing process.”

Actual fracking only lasts one to three days on each well. This includes pumping the fluid through the casing as well as removing the pumps and trucks. 

Fracking begins with mechanical perforations through the casing into the production zone. Perforating guns punch holes through the casing and cement into the formation with charged explosives. 

“Once the perforations are complete, hydraulic pumps and blending equipment pressurize a mixture of water, sand, and other chemical additives into the shale formation to create small fractures,” COGA reports. 

After openings in the casings have been made, the combination of sand, chemicals and water are mixed and pressured down the casing into the shale formation to create cracks. 

These cracks are “propped” open by the sand, which remains after the fluid is depressurized and siphoned out of the well. 

In 2010, the EPA estimated that between 70 million and 140 billion gallons of water are used in natural gas wells in America each year. 

Once the shale formation has been fracked, the gas is released into a wellbore where it can be extracted for the next 30 years. COGA refers to this step as production and reclamation. 

Before the well is sealed, Colorado law says, “All oil, gas and water strata above and below the producing horizon shall be sealed or separated in order to prevent the intermingling of their contents.”

A powerpoint available on the COGCC website from May 6 states there have been 399 spills/released reported, 63 groundwater impacts, 22 surface water impacts, and zero water well impacts. 

The most common cause of these impacts are failure equipment (211 instances), followed by human error (62 instances). Produced water, or the water produced during fracking, is the most common contaminate. 

The possibility and examples of contamination to water has been the subject of much debate over fracking. The COGCC stated, in response to the documentary “Gasland”, each report of contaminated water is investigated and while there have been cases where thermogenic methane, related to oil and gas development, has been found in a well, contamination “is not present” or “the methane comes from biogenic sources.”

The Oil and Gas Conservation Act requires all operators using fracking to contribute $25,000 to the Environmental Response Fund, “a mechanism to plug and abandon orphan wells, perform orphaned site reclamation and remediation, and to conduct other authorized environmental activities.”

Even so, debate over fracking starts before the birth of a well and continues well after it has been plugged. 

The Colorado Hydraulic Fracturing State Review concluded in 2011 that regulations made by the state met standards set by STRONGER, a non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization whose purpose is to assist states in documenting the environmental regulations associated with the exploration, development and production of crude oil and natural gas, were “generally met.”

Still, debate continues over whether or not the process of fracking is as dangerous as environmentalist organizations conclude it is, whether or not there are enough regulations, and whether or not these regulations are being followed.  For each region and each instance the worry is a little bit different. For those who don’t experience fracking near their communities, the information can be overwhelming. The topic is complex; as are the arguments. To have a conversation about fracking means starting with the basics.

by Kara Mason


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Middle schoolers have a plan to stop rock art tagging in Western Colorado




GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — Arron Buehler’s day in a western Colorado canyon might not have had the Hollywood panache of Ferris Bueller’s day off, but something about seeing Buehler’s name scrawled on the sandstone escarpment gave Chris Joyner pause.

Joyner, spokesman for the Grand Junction Office of the Bureau of Land Management, looked at Buehler’s name — and those of many others emblazoned on rock in a canyon south of Grand Junction — and said that, paradoxically, there might be a reason for hope.

It was just last year that Buehler posted his name, next to Elizabeth, who left her mark in 2017.

Few of the names appeared to be more than a year or two old, and, “That tells me there’s opportunity here,” Joyner said.

The more recent the markings, the more likely the vandals are to be found, and the more likely it is that other methods might discourage younger people from following Arron Buehler’s lead, Joyner said.

Joyner and BLM archaeologist Alissa Leavitt-Reynolds are working in Grand Junction to deal with vandalism on federal lands, whether it be by graffiti artists such as Charley Humpy (who helpfully added, “Remember me” next to his name and yes, the BLM is doing all it can to achieve total recall), drug users ditching evidence in the desert, mayhem by “marksmen” and plain old dumping.

As much as Arron Buehler and a multitude of companions — Brian, Charley, Dizz, Dominique, Kay, Megan, Elizabeth, Jon, Sam and Tosha all seem to be begging for court dates (and Tosha, did you know your name covered an ancient petroglyph?) — Joyner said prosecution ought not be the only response to a growing trend of vandalism and worse on western Colorado’s rocky outcrops and arid landscapes.

Citations for vandalism aren’t tracked by the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes offenses on federal land, so no precise numbers are available.

An Army veteran, Joyner is using his post 9/11 GI Bill funds at Johns-Hopkins University to study ways to divert people from what he terms “dysfunctional visitor behavior.”

“Dysfunctional visitor behavior” has a more authoritative ring than “vandalism” and “littering” and Joyner said he hopes that a scholarly approach can help agencies fend off some of the destructive activity on federal lands before it takes place.

Some of his research suggests that “informed participation in nearby historic and cultural sites” can influence the way many residents perceive those sites, Joyner said.

The students in Ginger DeCavitch’s social studies classes at Mount Garfield Middle School experienced “informed participation” last summer.

DeCavitch took her students into Bangs Canyon to see the mica mine and found the defaced escarpment “as we were stepping over broken beer bottles and charcoal” from fires.

Vandals had used charcoal to scratch names and slogans on the rock, DeCavitch said.

“They call it tagging” and few participants see any issue with defacing the rock, taking selfies and posting them on social media, DeCavitch said.

She contacted the BLM soon afterward to see if her class could help clean up the mess they found.

“They all wanted to go back,” enough that some students hauled 40-pound containers of water down an occasionally difficult trail to help clean the site, DeCavitch said.

Her middle school students sat silent as members of the Southern Ute tribe described how they perceived the canyon and the ancient markings, many of which had been defaced, DeCavitch said.

Far from being discouraged, her students were enthused about tackling the enormity of the defacement, DeCavitch said.

“We have a plan that we’ll be back,” she said.

Introducing young people properly to wild lands is one way to discourage future vandals and dysfunctional visitors.

It’s one “foot-in-the-door” tactic that Joyner hopes land managers take up.

Visitors also can be endowed with a sense of ownership by agreeing with a simple proposition — the idea that one ought not litter on public lands, for instance — and then be brought along to agree with how to visit them appropriately, Joyner said.

It’s part of a human tendency to want to be consistent, he said. People who agree not to litter tend to want to build on that as opposed to act in contradictory fashion, he said.

Even providing a small gift or trinket can engender a sense of responsibility among potential vandals, Joyner said.

Other techniques include the “broken-window” approach — the idea that replacing broken glass as soon as it’s found and thus denying miscreants their moment of victory — isn’t as easy as it might be in other environments, Joyner said.

DeCavitch’s class, for instance, learned that while cleaning up a mess might eliminate an eyesore, it also could erase history.

Her eager middle-schoolers couldn’t go forward with the cleanup until members of the Southern Ute Tribe, headquartered in Duchesne, Utah, approved the plan, DeCavitch said.

While Joyner’s studies have suggested that males 16 to 25 who live within 60 miles of Grand Junction are the likely offenders, one look at the escarpment suggests that young women are more active participants than crime statistics might suggest, Joyner said.

One study suggests that younger people prefer non-coercive approaches, but Joyner said that doesn’t mean the BLM is losing interest in prosecuting vandals and others.

Far from it.

BLM officials routinely contact school officials and consult high school yearbooks to match the names they come across with people who could be prosecuted.

Some miscreants make it easier, posting selfies of themselves with their works. Some even lower the level of difficulty by including hashtags.

The criminal exposure can reach felony levels because of the difficulty and expense of dealing with cleaning up or restoring the markings that date back hundreds of years.

If the malefactors are found, Joyner said, “We don’t write warning tickets.”


Information from: The Daily Sentinel,

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The #WhatNow of #MeToo for the #COLeg



AP Photo/David Zalubowski

When several lawmakers, lobbyists and staff at the state Legislature came forward this fall to allege they were victims of sexual harassment by lawmakers, two big questions followed: how often does this happen? What can be done to prevent more cases?

Reporters have asked state officials the first question repeatedly, returning to readers with little response from the state. The latter prompted a conversation from leadership, but as for what’s next—how the allegations, formal complaints, and legislature’s response—will impact politics under the gold dome and whether women will feel any safer is to be determined.

So far, top state lawmakers have decided to hire a human resources officer—who would be independent from the legislature—to be a contact person when incidents involving sexual harassment are brought forward. Now, leadership is tasked with handling and investigating such claims.

The group also decided to hire an independent consultant to review the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, and lawmakers, staff, and aides will undergo another round of sexual harassment training this year. Typically, those working at the Legislature are only required to go through training every two years.

Those changes are a good start, said Erin Hottenstein, executive director of Colorado 50/50, an organization that aims to get more women in public office. But the legislature stopped short of changing any current policies. And Colorado 50/50 called for an entire overhaul.

“I’m very pleased that there was a recognition that the policy needs to be improved,” Hottenstein said.

But there weren’t any specific recommendations regarding transparency, which Hottenstein said is significant in looking at what happens next.

Lawmakers and staff said they couldn’t disclose how many sexual harassment claims that leadership in each chamber have received because they were personnel issues.

“I think there’s a way to be transparent and safe,” Hottenstein said. “There should be a high- level summary document that shows on a certain date a sexual harassment complaint was made and who it was against and a date of a deposition and what the result was.”

Hottenstein said transparency becomes crucial in these cases because it leads to accountability and the public’s right to know what actions the people elected to office are taking.

In October, Pueblo Rep. Daneya Esgar broke her silence posting on Facebook that she was no stranger to sexual harassment and experienced it just a week earlier with a colleague she works with regularly as a lawmaker. The post was part of the #MeToo movement after a New York Times expose highlighted the stories of several women who said they’d been sexually harassed or assaulted by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Then, a flood of other allegations were brought to the surface in Colorado politics. Rep. Faith Winter said fellow House member Steve Lebsock had harassed her at a legislative party in 2016. Winter and a lobbyist say they filed formal complaints against Lebsock.

An intern said Sen. Randy Baumgardner harassed her with sexually suggestive comments. The same went for Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial, who was accused of telling an intern that if she wanted to get ahead in her career, he could help.

Rep. Paul Rosenthal, who is openly gay, allegedly groped a man and used his seat to try and get a date with another.

But the case between Lebsock and Winter gained the most attention, even prompting Lebsock to take a polygraph test, which the administrator says he passed, to prove his innocence. Lebsock has hinted that the entire incident may be a case of dirty politics, alleging that Winter is the one lying.

When several lawmakers were asked if the case would mean a splintered Democratic party in the House, they were unsure, but optimistic about the session.

Still, there haven’t been any resignations over the allegations, though several, including leadership and editorial boards from across the state, said these legislators should step down from their seat. Some even called for House Speaker Crisanta Duran to step down from her position because she promoted Lebsock to a chairmanship despite knowing there was an incident between him and Winter.

The transparency piece has yet to be addressed by state lawmakers, and it’s unclear whether any policy or legislative changes will address that in the coming months. But for what it’s worth, the women who have broken their silence about sexual harassment in the Legislature are supportive of the changes leadership has discussed.

“I’m encouraged to see the direction leadership is taking when it comes to developing new and independent methods of dealing with complaints of sexual harassment at the Capitol,” said Esgar, who still hasn’t named the colleague she said grabbed her thigh at a legislative event earlier this year. “I’m hopeful that new ideas are still being formulated and considered, when it comes to ways to change the culture itself.”

The lawmaker added that a new session will certainly mean new ideas will come to light, “it’s our responsibility to lead the state in changing cultures to help make work environments safe and productive for all employees on every level.”

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20 cities primed on the Amazon wishlist to be its next HQ



NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon’s second home could be in an already tech-heavy city, such as Boston, New York or Austin, Texas. Or it could be in the Midwest, say, Indianapolis or Columbus, Ohio. Or the company could go outside the U.S. altogether and set up shop in Toronto.

Those six locations, as well as 14 others, made it onto Amazon’s not-so-short shortlist Thursday of places under consideration for the online retailing giant’s second headquarters.

The 20 picks, narrowed down from 238 proposals, are concentrated mostly in the East and the Midwest and include several of the biggest metro areas in the country, such as Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles, the only West Coast city on the list.

The Seattle-based company set off fierce competition last fall when it announced that it was looking for a second home, promising 50,000 jobs and construction spending of more than $5 billion. Many cities drew up elaborate presentations that included rich financial incentives.

The list of finalists highlights a key challenge facing the U.S. economy: Jobs and economic growth are increasingly concentrated in a few large metro areas, mostly on the East and West Coasts and a few places in between, such as Texas.

Nearly all the cities on Amazon’s list already have growing economies, low unemployment and highly educated populations.

“Amazon has picked a bunch of winners,” said Richard Florida, an economic development expert and professor at the University of Toronto who helped develop that city’s bid. “It really reflects winner-take-all urbanism.”

Among those that didn’t make the cut were Detroit, a disappointment for those excited about progress since the city came out of bankruptcy, and Memphis, Tennessee, where the mayor said the city gave it its “best shot.” San Diego also failed to advance.

“Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough,” said Holly Sullivan, who oversees Amazon’s public policy. “All the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity.”

Amazon said it will make a final selection sometime this year.

Besides Austin, another Texas city made the cut: Dallas. In the South, Miami and Atlanta are being considered.

Officials in cities that made the shortlist took the opportunity to further tout their locations, with Philadelphia’s mayor noting “all that Philadelphia has to offer” and officials in and around Pittsburgh citing the region’s “world-class talent pool” and other advantages.

Other contenders among the 20 include Denver; Montgomery County, Maryland; Nashville, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; Northern Virginia; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

“It’s a long list for a shortlist,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist at job site Indeed.

He said Amazon may use the list to pit the locations against each other and get better tax breaks or other incentives. Two metro areas, New York and Washington, have more than one location on the list, increasing the competition there, he said.

“It’s hard to say whether all these places are in play or Amazon wanted to encourage continued competition,” Kolko said.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether locations would be able to change their proposals or offer better incentives, but said in a statement that it will “work with each of the candidate locations to dive deeper into their proposals.”

State and local governments played up the amenities they think make their locations the best choice. Some pulled off stunts to stand out, such as New York, which lit the Empire State Building in Amazon orange.

Some gimmicks didn’t work: Tucson, Arizona, which sent a 21-foot cactus to Seattle, did not make the list. Neither did Birmingham, Alabama, which installed giant replicas of Amazon’s Dash buttons.

The company had stipulated that it wanted to be near a metropolitan area with more than 1 million people, and nearly all of those on the shortlist have a metro population of at least double that.

Amazon also wanted to be able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and be able to expand the headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade.

But Amazon also made it very clear it wanted tax breaks, grants and any other incentives.

Boston’s offer includes $75 million for affordable housing for Amazon employees and others. Before leaving office Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie approved a measure to allow New Jersey to offer up to $5 billion to Amazon. Newark is also proposing $2 billion in tax breaks.

But many of the state and local governments competing for the headquarters have refused to disclose the financial incentives they offered. Of the 20 finalists, 13, including New York, Chicago and Miami, declined requests from The Associated Press to release their applications. Toronto’s mayor said Thursday that the city offered no financial incentives to woo Amazon.

Several said they don’t want their competitors to know what they’re offering, a stance that open-government advocates criticized.

Amazon plans to remain in its sprawling Seattle headquarters, and the second home base will be “a full equal” to it, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has said.

The extra space will give the rapidly growing company room to spread out. It had nearly 542,000 employees at the end of September, a 77 percent jump from the year before. Some of that growth came from Amazon’s nearly $14 billion acquisition last year of the Whole Foods grocery chain and its 89,000 employees.


Associated Press writers Josh Cornfield in Philadelphia, Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island, and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report. Rugaber contributed from Washington.

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