Fracking in Boulder County

Ongoing coverage since October 2011 | by Jefferson Dodge and Joel Dyer

Boulder Weekly Staff | Boulder Weekly

Time and again, Boulder Weekly has brought images to readers that will illustrate a point that can be tough to understand as a simple concept, and in few places has this proved more wise a choice than in the coverage of hydraulic fracturing. One map says it all: a map of active oil and gas wells in Boulder and western Weld County that shows a dense concentration of wells in the edge of Weld County that seem to be spreading south and west into Boulder County. It’s an image that puts a face on the reason fracking is an issue BW has monitored closely since the first concerns about the practice — and discussions to ban it — arose among locals.

Jefferson Dodge’s first story on fracking, “What the frack?: Controversial oil/gas drilling digs in around Boulder County” from Oct. 27, 2011, introduced BW readers to hydraulic fracturing, which was gathering attention from environmentalists due to the use of chemicals that might affect groundwater. At the time, oil and gas officials were in talks with the city of Longmont about accessing the Wattenberg oil field next to and under Union Reservoir. What had happened in Weld County — where drilling rigs were dotting the horizon —could happen in Boulder County. Talk of a drilling moratorium arose with activists in that first story, which won first place in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies regional contest.

Images again stepped forward as a centerpiece in the storytelling for “Frack tracks,” by Jefferson Dodge (July 19, 2012), in which BW ran satellite photos that had been submitted to other publications and to Gov. John Hickenlooper in an effort to raise some concern. The photographs show what Colorado activists charge are scars on the landscape created by dumping waste from hydraulic fracturing operations.

BW reported on the campaign in Longmont to ban fracking, and the ensuing lawsuit filed by oil and gas interests asserting that people don’t have a right to ban a practice that they think threatens their health when it infringes on the rights of the oil and gas industry. BW went on to award “Person of the Year” to the David-versus-Goliath campaign “Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont,” which overcame a $440,000 campaign launched by oil and gas companies and gained approval of Question 300, the city charter amendment banning fracking within city limits.

Coverage has also included pieces like “Boulder’s fracking roots” (March 8, 2012), which told of an early method of fracking that was created at Third and Pearl in downtown Boulder, and stories investigating violations of “fracademic freedom” — university researchers complaining about pressures brought to bear on them as a result of anti-fracking findings, including reports that one was pressured to leave his position at the Colorado School of Mines and a Wyoming university after making negative comments about fracking.

“The Earth’s invisible dump” (Sept. 20, 2012) revealed that the method for disposing of toxic waste, including fracking fluid packed with 500 different chemicals, has been shown to have adverse effects in various ways, from producing earthquakes — including a 5.0 earthquake that hit the Front Range in 1967 — to leaking into groundwater from faulty casings, cracks in casings or human error. Meanwhile, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s push to exempt fracking fluid from the Clean Water Act has allowed fracking fluid to be disposed of in a class of well that is infrequently monitored, allowing for leaks to exist for years before anyone might catch them.

BW has consistently pressed the message — from the first story on fracking to our road trip to the divided town of Pavillion, Wyo. — that what’s happening elsewhere could happen here in Boulder County.

We took the lessons of Pavillion — that a town divided over an issue like fracking hurts everyone in it, even those who don’t think the water is contaminated, as home values drop and the feeling that the state is on the gas company’s side grows — and brought it back to Erie, where drilling rigs have popped up in backyards and near schools and churches.

“It’s so important, because the future of the county hangs in the balance with this issue,” says Boulder Weekly Editor Joel Dyer. “It’s a critical issue that’s on everyone’s mind.”

BW’s coverage has earned letters from citizens commending commentaries and reporting that have exposed the potential dangers of fracking and championed those who would fight for public health in the face of corporate interests.