Colorado eyes mandatory groundwater testing near new fracking sites

Colorado is debating whether it will become the first state in the nation to require testing of groundwater samples before any new hydraulic fracturing (fracking) wells are dug.

According to a report from The Coloradoan, state health and environmental officials are holding hearings in Denver this week to decide how best to test groundwater supplies near proposed gas and oil wells dug in the state. If the requirements are set into law, Colorado would be the first state to have these restrictions on new gas and oil wells.

The nation is currently amid a sort-of boom in natural gas drilling as companies use hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling to unlock natural gas deposits, mostly, from underground shale formations. Colorado is one particular hotbed of this activity in the Midwest and as drilling expands, it has begun to impede upon residential areas of that much more wide open landscape.

Fracking has been a touchy subject in the Mid Atlantic, too, where it stands to impact millions more people directly as wells are dug within a few thousand feet of some homes and many residents closest to these wells believe that faults in the wells and the overall danger of the process itself has contaminated or threatens to contaminate their safe drinking water supplies. 

The proposed Colorado law seeks to have groundwater samples collected at all potential wells within a half-mile just before drilling is commenced and after it has started. Officials from one city, Fort Collins, testified this week that they believe the state’s proposal may be a good first step but it should aim to protect the public safety in the future by requiring more testing in the years after drilling has started, even after the well has been closed and abandoned.

Fracking drilling uses hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water, sand, a drill, and mix of hundreds of chemicals – about 60 of which are known toxins – that are rushed into an underground horizontal well that stretches until it reaches a shale formation below. The drilling fluid blasts apart the rock and releases natural gas deposits. The contents of the drilling fluid and the gas are then rushed back to the surface where they are collected, process, and stored.

Critics of fracking drilling believe the process is inherently dangerous and that it leads to widespread contamination of groundwater and aims to spoil the fresh drinking water supplies to tens of millions of Americans if it allowed to expand unchecked as it has already in the Mid Atlantic, mostly.

The federal government appears hesitant to state that fracking drilling may contribute to localized groundwater contamination and that has put pressure on state and local governments to act in its place, often at a great cost to them, if they plan to limit fracking drilling on their own.


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