Thursday, October 06, 2011, 4:30AM - 5:30AM
Full title of talk: "The curious incident of the well in the Raton: An environmental investigation of alleged hydraulic fracturing impacts." The present disagreements over natural gas development (namely, the use of hydraulic fracturing, or “frac’ing,” as an extraction mechanism) in the United States and abroad are currently being dubbed the next environmental “superdebate” – on par at least with contention over acid rain in earlier decades and at most with altercations over climate change in more recent years (Byrne, 2011). Natural gas development is controversial for many reasons; chief among them is the potential harm done to groundwater systems in the course of gas extraction by way of aquifer drawdown or contamination (EPA, 2011). While the national media’s focus on the Marcellus Shale might suggest that this controversy over groundwater quality is limited to the Northeast, residents of Colorado’s gas patches know that a large part of the story has been unfolding here for many years, in places like Weld, Garfield, and Las Animas counties. In this talk, I will present a recent case from the forefront of Colorado’s “frac’ing” debate. It is the case of a landowner’s domestic well in the Raton Basin, which became unusable due to sudden turbidity in the hours following the hydraulic fracturing of a nearby gas well (COGCC, 2011). In this interactive INSTAAR grad talk, we will collectively put on the cap of a state official responding to the complaint and work through the actual environmental investigation step- by-step. The real-life verdict will be concealed until the end of the experiment and a tally of interpretations will be taken – by the end of the discussion, how many will agree with the state’s final call on the data, and how many will disagree? At the very least, the exercise should serve as a reminder of the complexity of the groundwater systems many of us rely on and the uncertainty involved in understanding their behavior.
Byrne, D. (2011). Fracking and the road to energy independence. Chicago Tribune.
Colorado Oil and Gas Commission. (2011). Report of Commission and Order, Order No. 1V-363, Docket No. 1102-OV-04.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2011). Draft Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.