Find answers to commonly asked questions about oil and natural gas development in Colorado.
Without fracking, the newfound energy abundance in America—and all of its benefits—would cease to exist.
Firstly, natural gas unlocked by from fracking is a clean and an abundant energy source that complements renewable energy on the days when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. Additionally, fracking has helped make the U.S. the number one oil and natural gas producer in the world, putting us on the path to energy independence.
From heating and cooling our homes, to getting us to the places we need to go, we rely on this domestic oil and natural gas fto power the things we use every day. And as the balanced energy capital of the West, oil and gas combined with geothermal, hydro-electric, biofuels, solar and wind energy support a sustainable energy future right here in Colorado. Of all these fuels, natural gas has risen to become the second-largest energy fuel source in Colorado, and its use is quickly expanding across the country.
Check out our graphics to see how oil and natural gas from fracking is powering Coloradans’ lives.
Fracking first began in 1947 and up to 95 percent of new wells drilled today are fracked.
The oil and natural gas industry provides over $25 billion dollars in revenue to Colorado’s economy—helping make Colorado the 5th fastest-growing economy in the United States. Weld County, Colorado—home to 85% of Colorado’s oil production—had the largest percentage increase in employment in the U.S. in 2013. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics;University of Colorado Boulder Leeds School of Business)
Check out our info-graphic to understand fracking’s full economic impact in Colorado.
Federal, state and local governments all have a part in regulating the development of oil and natural gas, including fracking.
Despite the rumors, fracking is not exempt from major federal environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Endangered Species Act (ESA) or the Occupational Safety and Health Act. In 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) clarified in a report to Congress the key environmental and public health regulations that govern fracking and other steps in the development of oil and natural gas.
At the state level, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is charged with regulating Colorado’s oil and gas production. Mandatory groundwater monitoring programs, well-inspections, and strict well-structure rules are just a few examples of how the COGCC ensures fracking remains safe throughout the entire process. Review and approval of permits, drilling locations, well integrity standards, waste water management and disposal and air emission oversight are also regulated at the state level.
The COGCC is one of the most transparent regulators in the country. Any Coloradan can check out statewide regulations on the COGCC website. In May 2015, the COGCC modernized its website to make it even easier for Coloradans to get the facts.
Before drilling takes place, oil and natural gas companies are required to work with local governments and nearby residents to ensure community concerns are acknowledged and addressed up front whenever possible. Here are a few ways local governments participate in the process.
- Locations: City councils and county commissions make local permitting and zoning decisions.
- Representing Local Interests at State Level: A local government designee (LGD) can be selected to represent their specific interests directly to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency tasked with regulating all aspects of oil and natural gas, including fracking. LGDs serve as a liaison between the community and the COGCC to ensure their concerns are properly addressed at the state level.
- Setting Rules for Production: Local governments can sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which is a legally binding agreement between operators and local governments that sets clear rules for energy development in their community, including fracking.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) regulates “setbacks” from homes, schools and other high occupancy buildings. Colorado was the first state in the Rockies to push its setback distance to 500 feet from a residence and 1,000 feet from high occupancy buildings, such as hospitals and schools.
In January 2013, the COGCC adopted these new setback rules and included additional rules requiring:
- Closed loop drilling systems that eliminate storage pits
- Liner standards to protect against spills
- Capture of gases to reduce odors and emissions
- Strict controls on the nuisance impacts of noise and dust
Colorado has some of the nation’s strictest setback rules. That’s why ballot measure #78 is unnecessary. This initiative would increase setback distances to 2,500 feet—leaving 90% of Colorado’s surface area unavailable for new oil and natural gas development.
Learn more about the COGCC’s setback rules by visiting their website.
Seven studies have now found that fracking does not contaminate groundwater, including The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which confirmed that fracking doesn’t cause “widespread, systemic” water contamination.
Colorado has some of the nation’s strictest water regulations, which help make sure that our water is safe for all Coloradans.
What Makes Colorado's Water Regulations Unique?
- Colorado state law requires each individual oil and gas well be encased in several separate layers of steel and cement to ensure fracking fluid does not penetrate past the wellbore into our drinking water sources.
- Colorado was the first state to require water sample testing before and after drilling to ensure our drinking water sources are protected.
- The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) requires the disclosure of fracking fluid’s contents on FracFocus.org, a publicly-accessible database.
- Colorado has some of the toughest setback regulations in the nation. Colorado was the first state in the Rockies to push its setback distance to 500 feet from a residence and 1,000 feet from high occupancy buildings, such as hospitals and schools.
- After drilling is finished, Colorado regulations require oil and natural gas producers to restore land to its pre-drilling condition through a process called reclamation.
- Colorado recently added more state inspectors and increased fines for violations by 1500%.
To learn more about Colorado’s water regulations, visit the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) website.
Are fracking earthquakes real? While it’s true that human activity associated with energy production can cause earthquakes, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) haven’t found a link between fracking and the estimated 20,000 earthquakes that occur across the country each year.
Seismologists have noted that human-caused earthquakes are geographically and geologically diverse and “very rare,” especially when compared to the amount of oil and natural gas being produced. In 2014, the United States became the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world.
On the rare occasion a noticeable seismic activity is felt near oil and natural gas production, it’s typically from the disposal of drilling fluids into naturally-existing underground formations. These underground caverns are often referred to as injection wells, the vast majority of which don’t cause earthquakes.
Waste injection, long regarded as an environmentally responsible way to dispose of wastewater, has been around since the 1930s. Municipalities, chemical companies, and other industries outside the oil and gas industry use these wells to dispose of hazardous liquids, storm water or other unwanted liquid waste.
There are approximately 144,000 injection wells operating in the United States, 20% of which are used for disposal of fluids associated with oil and natural gas production. Most of the fluid injected back underground is salt water (brine), which is brought to the surface as a result of producing oil and natural gas. The Underground Injection Control (UIC) process must be regulated by either the state or a federal agency.
There are approximately 330 oil and gas wastewater injection wells in Colorado regulated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). If an earthquake in Colorado occurs, the COGCC has a seismicity plan in place to understand the origin, cause, and a proper course of monitoring actions.
So, does fracking cause earthquakes? The answer is no.
Numerous federal, state and local laws regulate fracking to minimize its impact on the environment. Coupled with advancements in oil and gas technology, fracking is helping curb air pollution. Here’s how:
- Clean-burning natural gas from fracking helped curb U.S. carbon emissions to 20-year lows in 2013.
- In February 2014, Governor Hickenlooper announced groundbreaking standards for methane emissions—making Colorado’s air regulations the strictest in the nation.
For a full list of air regulations see here.
The burning tap water scenes in Gasland and Gasland II have stoked fears about the dangers of fracking. These scenes are sensational, frightening and easily burned into one’s false impression of fracking. Unfortunately, this difficult to extinguish, so to speak.
The good news is that the State of Colorado investigated these Gasland scenes and found no connection between oil and natural gas drilling – including fracking – and reports of tap water catching on fire.
In Gasland II, a flaming garden-hose scene came under fire when a Texas judge exposed the footage as staged and hoax. The court found that the landowner “under the advice or direction” of an environmental activist, “intentionally attached a garden hose to a gas vent – not a water line” and lit its contents on fire. The court concluded that the footage used in Gasland Part II “was not done for scientific study but to provide local and national news media a deceptive video, calculated to alarm the public into believing the water was burning.” (Source: “Fact-Checking Gasland Part II,” Washington Free Beacon)
Here’s the fracking fact: Methane gas occurs naturally in groundwater in sedimentary basins in Colorado and around the world, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). Some towns like Burning Springs, West Virginia were given their name hundreds of years ago because water sources could be lit on fire due to naturally occurring methane bubbling up into their streams.
Does fracking cause burning tap water? The answer is no.
In Colorado, underground minerals may belong to the surface owner or a third party and developing those minerals is considered a private property right. Often, different parties own the surface and the subsurface, commonly referred to as severed or split estate lands. According to an Oklahoma University state-by-state study, more than 600,000 people have Colorado mineral rights.
Royalty payments are a percentage share of the production of oil and gas paid to the mineral owner. These payments are based on the value of the energy extracted and go into effect as soon as production begins. Periods of higher production will yield higher royalty payments than periods where production has slowed down.
Some Coloradans rely on income from oil and natural gas development to help sustain farming operations and mineral rights can be distributed through inheritances, which can split the mineral estate between heirs.
The National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO) released a report in June 2014 that found a ban on fracking in Boulder County, Colorado alone would cost taxpayers over $1 billion in compensation to mineral owners and those who receive royalties from energy development on their property.
To learn who owns the mineral rights under your land, consider contacting your local county clerk’s office to locate all the filed land records having to do with your property.
Fracking fluid is 99.5% water and sand. 0.5% consists of safe chemical additives, most of which are found in common household products, like toothpaste and makeup remover, or in the foods you eat. Colorado was the first state to require that producers disclose ALL additives—including their concentrations—to state regulators. Learn about fracking fluid’s ingredients for yourself on FracFocus.org.
Check out our info-graphic for a brief rundown of fracking fluid’s ingredients.