The health effects of hydraulic fracturing will be discussed in Greeley on June 25.
Speaking will be Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, who serves on the House Health Environment Committee; Wes Wilson, a former geological engineer and water resources manager; and Phil Doe, an expert on agricultural water issues.
The experts were invited to speak because members of several grassroots groups — Weld Air and Water, Weld 350, Frack Files and Plains Alliance — want to educate the public about a process they think is moving too fast, said spokeswoman Hollis Berendt.
She said some people in the community are concerned about the recent increase in fracking operations, noting that more than 100 people came to a Greeley City Council meeting when fracking was discussed — though most only listened.
“We’re going at this too fast; we’re not using good judgment,” Berendt said.
She said the lure of fast money has distracted people from how little is known about the health and environmental risks posed by fracking. But many professors and experts have studied oil and gas development without choosing sides when it comes to fracking, countered Doug Flanders, director of policy and external affairs for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, in a statement to The Tribune.
Green energy development has slowed, Berendt said, and increasing the use of fracking could cause “catastrophic climate change.”
However, she said the focus of the Greeley forum will be the health risk of fracking — not the environmental impact.
Berendt accused the oil and gas industry of trying to make information about fracking vague and unavailable, and said even oil and gas workers don’t know all of the chemicals and risks associated with fracking.
Flanders said COGA is listening to the concerns of the public when it comes to fracking.
“COGA acknowledges the concerns, risks and benefits associated with all forms of energy development. We value the conversations we have with concerned communities every day,” Flanders said.
Flanders added that he thinks most Coloradans want to work with the oil and gas industry, and that the talk among most citizens is a calm and rational dialogue.
Health ailments can’t yet be proven to be linked to oil and gas because the list of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing was only recently released, Berendt said, but she thinks it’s more than coincidence when people who work at and live around fracking sites are afflicted with ailments such as worsening asthma and other breathing issues.
Because other Colorado cities have passed fracking bans, Berendt said, “People in Greeley are going to be guinea pigs, because we are continuing to do it.”
Flanders said fracking in the state is a complex matter, and that practical concerns shouldn’t be ignored when enacting bans.
“… Banning a product we all use every minute of our lives is both short sighted and damaging to the Colorado way of life,” Flanders said.
State officials said regulations are constantly evolving to make oil and gas operations safer.
The oil and gas industry is highly regulated to make sure it is safe, said Todd Hartman, communications director for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
He said the department is always alert for new information that could shape regulations, and that the oil and gas industry has operated safely and successfully in Colorado for more than a hundred years.
“All the while, industry technology and regulatory requirements designed to reduce environmental and health impacts continue to advance,” Hartman said.
Ginal, a biologist with a doctorate in endocrinology, will recap the bill she presented last session, HB 1275. The bill, which died in committee, asked for a study to identify health aspects of oil and gas activity.
Wilson has a bachelor’s of science degree in geological engineering and a master’s of science degree in water resources administration. He was in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and worked for the Environmental Protection Agency in Denver until his retirement in 2010.
Doe is environmental issues director for Be the Change, a progressive grassroots political organization. He was formerly head of the policy office overseeing federal water subsidies to irrigated agriculture with the U.S. Department of the Interior. He was also a whistleblower against attempts by the agriculture industry to thwart congressional controls on agricultural water subsidies who appeared on “60 Minutes.” He has published a number of articles on water issues, including a recent EcoWatch article discussing fracking in Colorado.