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EPA Proposes New Fracking Standards - Fields Opinions in Denver

September 29, 2011

DENVER - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held hearings Wednesday in Denver on new nationwide environmental standards for the process known as fracking. Fracking - hydraulic fracturing to gain access to oil and natural gas reserves - is big business in Colorado. The state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission estimates that most of Colorado's 42,000 active oil and gas wells rely on fracking to get at reserves. The EPA is proposing changes to fracking emissions standards, requiring wells to be fitted with a special piece of equipment that will separate oil and gas from fracking byproducts.

Retired EPA scientist Weston Wilson says the new standards are similar to those currently on the books in Colorado and Wyoming that are not being enforced on a consistent basis.

"It would require this produced water that comes back after a fracking job to be collected in a process called a 'green completion.' Right now, the industry doesn't do this."

Advocates for the new standards say the changes would not only improve air quality, but would also save the industry money - to the tune of $30 million a year. Industry representatives counter that the equipment is too expensive and are recommending more study.

David Ellenberger, Colorado-based regional outreach coordinator with the National Wildlife Federation, says the EPA is taking a big step in the right direction.

"This is a win-win for both the environment and the economy. The fact of the matter is that these rules are long overdue."

The oil and gas industry cites a 2004 EPA study as evidence that fracking presents little risk to drinking water or air. But Wilson claims the study itself was tainted, that it drew a conclusion not supported by the data.

"It was this illogical conclusion that they have toxic materials that go down into the ground and not only come back, but pose no risk."

The hearings conclude today in Arlington, Texas. The agency must take final action on the proposal by Feb. 28, 2012.

The EPA site for the proposed fracking regulations is www.epa.gov.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO