Report quantifies fracking’s widespread environmental toll

Environment Colorado Research and Policy Center


DENVER, CO –Fracking wells across the country released at least 5.3 billion pounds of global warming methane pollution in a single year, with Colorado as the 4th largest emitter, according to a new report from Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center.

Written along with the Frontier Group, the study, Fracking by the Numbers, quantifies how 138,000 fracking wells permitted over the last decade nationally, and over 22,000 wells in Colorado alone, have harmed the state’s air, water, land and climate.

This report comes as a local control bill, that would give Colorado communities the ability to keep fracking out of their borders, failed to pass last week.

“The numbers don’t lie—fracking has taken a dirty and destructive toll on our environment,” said Kim Stevens, director from Environment Colorado. “At the very least we need to ensure that communities have the power to keep fracking out of their borders if they so choose.” 

Methane, a pollutant 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the course of 20 years, is released at multiple steps during fracking, including during hydraulic fracturing and well completion, and in the processing and transport of gas to end users. 

The report’s estimates, a conservative tally of fracking’s climate impact, come as new research shows that methane emissions have skyrocketed since the fracking boom began in 2005.

The report paints a frightening picture of fracking’s harms across Colorado, in addition to its global warming pollution — including contaminated drinking water and marred landscapes. Using all data available from federal and state government entities, the report found:

  • Fracking wells produced more than 3 billion gallons of wastewater in 2014. Fracking wastewater has leaked from retention ponds, been dumped into streams, and escaped from faulty disposal wells, putting drinking water at risk. Wastewater from fracked wells includes not only the toxic chemicals injected into the well but also can bring naturally occurring radioactive materials to the surface.
  • Between 2005 and 2015, fracking used at least 80 million pounds of toxic chemicals in Colorado. Fracking uses of vast quantities of chemicals known to harm human health. People living or working nearby can be exposed to these chemicals if they enter drinking water after a spill or if they become airborne.
  • At least 19 billion gallons of water have been used in fracking since 2005 in Colorado. Fracking requires huge volumes of water for each well – water that is often needed for other uses or to maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems.
  • Infrastructure to support fracking has directly damaged at least 105,000 acres of land since 2005, equivalent to nearly half of Colorado’s State Park system. Well pads, new access roads, pipelines and other infrastructure built for fracking turn forests and rural landscapes into industrial zones.

Given the scale and severity of fracking’s impacts, the report says fracking should be prohibited wherever possible, and stricter regulations should be enacted to better protect communities already on the frontlines of drilling.

The report also gives lift to the effort to convince President Obama to end new fracking and drilling leases on public lands and in public waters to keep upwards of 450 billion tons of global warming pollution out of the atmosphere. 

“It’s clear when you add up the numbers, fracking spells disaster for Colorado’s environment. We need to put fracking in check—give communities the power to determine if, when and where it happens, and ensure our treasured public lands are protected from further development.” Said Stevens.



Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.