CSU experts answer questions on environmental impact of fracking
With the massive oil and gas drilling underway in northern Colorado, questions about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” have been on the minds of many residents.
A panel of four Colorado State University experts assembled Tuesday at Avogadro’s Number in Fort Collins to answer those questions. More than 250 people attended, armed with questions for panelists Thomas Borch and Jay Ham from the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Anthony Marchese of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Liba Pejchar of the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology. The following are some of the questions asked by the public and answers from the panelists:
Should we consider being a bit more precautionary when fracking?
Thomas Borch: I would say yes. I gave some talks in Europe last year and the questions were — because they’re considering starting to frac in Switzerland — why should we frac? Well, we’ll wait until you guys are done in the U.S. with the big experiment. We want to figure out whether it has an environmental impact or not. So in Europe there’s a little bit different approach to this. They’re a little more precautionary. So, of course, it cannot hurt.
Why is a well not allowed closer than 1,000 feet to a school, but it’s allowed 500 feet from a home?
Jay Ham: The rules on setbacks are tricky to interpret. If you look at how the concentration of a pollutant changes as you move away from an oil pad, it decreases in an exponential fashion. So you get really, really, rapid declines in concentration in the first 100-150 feet away from the pad and then as you get out to 500 feet, it gets really low and flattens out. Going from 1,000 to 2,000 feet doesn’t make much difference in what you’re exposed to. What level of exposure is safe? I don’t think any of us are qualified to answer that. But I do think the 1,000-foot setback is getting in the proper range based on the physics of dispersion.
What are the direct benefits to society that we’re seeing from fracking here in Colorado or as a country?
Anthony Marchese: We’ve seen an increase in natural gas production of about 25 percent over the last five years. We’ve seen oil and gas prices drop and we’ve seen much less dependence on imported oil and we’ve seen a lot of economic growth. So those are important things. But everything in life is a trade-off and a balance. I think these things all have to be balanced. The benefits vs. the costs. That said, if we find out as we continue to do more research that the environmental aspects outweigh the economic impacts, we need to slow down and rethink this.
-Bridgett Weaver, Reporter