The Costs of Fracking: Environment Colorado Documents the Dollars Drained by Dirty Drilling

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Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center

Denver, CO: Firing a new salvo in the ongoing debate over the gas drilling practice known as fracking, Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center released a report today documenting a wide range of dollars and cents costs imposed by dirty drilling. As documented in The Cost of Fracking, fracking creates millions of dollars of costs related to everything from air pollution to ruined roads to contaminated property.

“Fracking’s environmental damage is bad enough, but it turns out that this dirty drilling imposes heavy dollar and cents costs as well,” said Jeanne Bassett, senior associate for Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center. “And in many cases, the public will be left holding the bag for those costs.”

While the report documents a wide range of costs imposed by fracking, Environment Colorado is particularly concerned about what drinking water contamination would mean for Colorado:
Fracking operations contaminate drinking water sources in many ways – from spills to leaking waste pits to methane from drilling itself.

Waste from fracking operations has contaminated drinking water sources in the West. In just one case of groundwater contamination in Garfield County, Colorado, cleanup costs ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In addition to water cleanup costs, the report shows that fracking damage exacts other tolls on communities – from road repairs to health costs to emergency response. The report includes the following examples of such costs:

  • Health: In Arkansas’ Fayetteville Shale region, air pollution from fracking operations impose health costs estimated at $9.8 million in one year. In Texas’ Barnett Shale region, these costs reach $270,000 per day during the summer smog season.
  • Roads to Ruin: With fracking operations requiring thousands of trips by trucks and heavy machinery, a Texas task force approved $40 million in funding for road repairs in the Barnett Shale region.

“There are documented studies of chemical pollution in water and air related to fracking activities. So if I lived near a fracking site and had young children, I would move,” said Laird Cagan, MD, practicing internist, resident of Longmont, and immediate past president of the Boulder County Medical Society.

Moreover, as with previous extractive booms, fracking will impose long-term costs as well. As noted in the report, the coal boom in Appalachia left Pennsylvania with an estimated $5 billion cost for cleaning up acid mine drainage. There is also the impact on property values.

“Having been in the mortgage business for 11 years I am now seeing for the first time people applying for home loans and expressing concern about the appraisal value in neighborhoods where fracking is occurring. So this is impacting both consumers who want to refinance their homes or are looking at moving, and seeing that fracking in their neighborhood could have a huge impact on their property value,” said Brett Holland, owner of Investar Mortgage and resident of Windsor Colorado.

The Costs of Fracking report comes as the city of Longmont is considering a ban on the dirty drilling practice. Citizens of Longmont, having grave concerns about the adequacy of the City of Longmont’s proposed regulation of oil and gas development in the community, prepared a city charter amendment that prohibits hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within the city’s limits. It also bans injection wells and open pits.

Well over 8,000 Longmont voters signed the charter petition to place the matter before the electorate on November 6th. “Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, the sponsoring organization, is a group of ordinary citizens – parents, teachers, business people, medical providers, retirees – who are committed to preserving their health, safety, well-being and property values,” said Michael Bellmont, a member of Our Longmont.

The State of Colorado has filed suit against the City of Longmont for its limited regulations. “Both the State of Colorado and the oil and gas industry want to be able to drill near our homes, our schools, our parks and bodies of water, anywhere they desire, without concern for our health, safety and property values. They are bullying Longmont and its citizens for exercising our rights as guaranteed in the Colorado Constitution,” said Kaye Fissinger, also a member of Our Longmont.

“Like coal and oil booms before it, fracking creates the illusion of prosperity during the boom. But in the end, communities are stuck with a slew of costs – from property losses to ruined roads and health costs. That is why it is particularly important to allow communities to decide at the local level whether they want these dirty drilling practices in their back yard,” said Bassett.

However, to the extent that fracking is continuing at thousands of sites across Colorado, the report also recommends dramatically stepped-up bonding requirements and other financial assurances that match the full scope of fracking’s immediate and long-term costs.

Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center is a state-wide environmental organization, working to protect clean air, clean water and open space.