Hydrofracking meets academia

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Posted Fri, Oct 12, 2012

LECTURE CIRCUIT: Former Deputy Regional Counsel for the EPA, Peter Ornstein, lectured at the Tivoli Sept. 20 on hydraulic fracturing. Ornstein called for a national dialog and industry regulation, but raised further questions for some in the audience.
[Photo by Melanie J. Rice • mrice20@msudenver.edu]


DENVER, Auraria Campus — Part of the fractured audience in the Tivoli questioned undue gas and oil influence on academia after a lecture that called for a national dialog and regulation of the fracking industry. More than 90 people attended the presentation Sept. 27 by Peter Ornstein, former Deputy Regional Counsel for the EPA.

Hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, is a means of extracting oil and gas from rock by injecting the rock with highly pressurized water, sand or gravel and chemicals, which creates fractures, allowing the gas or oil to be pumped to the surface.

Ornstein identified national security, environmental and economic issues surrounding the practice of hydrofracking. “We need to…have a policy discussion, perhaps at a national level, to align these issues together because they’re not necessarily incompatible with each other,” Ornstein said.

Ornstein described environmental issues associated with hydrofracking, and said Congress exempted the hydrofracking industry from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. “There doesn’t have to be much of an impact if it’s well regulated,” Ornstein said regarding hydrofracking’s impact on water quality. “Hydrofracking is a tool….There’s nothing inherently bad or evil or good about it.”

A MATTER OF ETHICS: Gary Herman, president of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley and a landowner with active wells on his Weld County property, said there is an ethical dilemma involved with allocating water for hydrofracking instead of corn.
[Photo by Melanie J. Rice • mrice20@msudenver.edu]

Weston Wilson, a former scientist for the EPA and whistleblower featured in the movie, “Gasland,” said he questioned the impartiality of the 2004 EPA study which said hydrofracking posed no threat to drinking water. Wilson said the study was in part responsible for the industry’s exemption from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The situation has gotten worse since then, Wilson said, and it requires an investigation, but, “neither the democrats, nor the republicans, because of who’s in charge, will investigate the oil and gas industry.”

Wilson said the academic audience should be concerned about “’fracademia,’ the undue influence by the industry on the academic process.” Fracademia was involved in the firing of Dr. Geoffrey Thyne due to his investigation in Garfield County.

Gary Herman, president of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greely, Colo. and a landowner with active wells on his Weld County property, also spoke on hydrofracking. Herman said there is an ethical dilemma involved with allocating water for hydrofracking instead of corn.

“It’s gone for use elsewhere,” Herman said, as he explained that water is supposed to be recovered within the lifetime of a well, but that wells can last for twenty years and the water is not in the same condition as when it went in. “Do you irrigate two acres of corn, or do you frack a well?” Herman asked. “The biggest danger in selling off your mineral rights is not about oil and gas, it’s about water.”

The lecture was part of the One World, One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship’s fall 2012 speaker series designed to educate people on responsible water usage. The One World, One Water Center is creating a pilot minor at MSU Denver for students from all majors.

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About Melanie J. Rice

Melanie Rice is a journalism student at MSU Denver, with an emphasis on both visual and written content.

View all posts by Melanie J. Rice

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