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Let's Be Careful Down There

Boulder and its neighbors ban fracking for a while

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, December 04, 2013.

So, they finished the recount in Broomfield, and it seems that a ban on fracking passed by 20 votes. That means all five local votes to temporarily ban fracking - in Boulder, Longmont, Lafayette, Fort Collins, and Broomfield - went against the oil industry, which is out a lot of money they put into the losing political campaigns. Some locals who hoped to profit from fracking are annoyed. An Astroturf group is suing Broomfield about the way the election was conducted, which sounds like they have no real basis for a case. Also recently, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association brought suits against Lafayette and Fort Collins for banning fracking by legal public vote. It's a hissy fit.

I don't approve of fracking, at least with the level of competence demonstrated by the oil and gas gang. Here's why. Imagine yourself on a crowded bus with a colostomy bag in your lap and your groceries atop it. Yes, I could have asked you to imagine a water bag, but I need your attention. When you puncture a colostomy bag with the weight sitting on it, you must immediately have the hole covered by a hollow tube so the effluvium can exit cleanly with no spillage, right? So you insert the puncture device within the tube and at the moment of puncture, you have to remove the tool up the tube you have - allowing no leakage around the puncture joint between tube and bag - and no leakage when the tool is removed to allow smooth flow through the tube to wherever in God's name you plan to deposit the contents. Any leakage and everybody around will know it, and you'll have to burn or bury everything any spillage touches. Now imagine the bag under a mere twenty feet of sand, and you have to do this all by remote control. No problem, right? Fracking is much more difficult.

North Dakota has an unemployment rate of about 2.5% because of all the fracking it has allowed. It's burning off leaking gas from all the wells, so many that it looks like a major city from space. How safe is that, and how's it going?

Well, there's been a problem involving the least complicated part of this one well up by Tioga. Last September, it seems a six inch pipeline sprang a little leak, unnoticed by owner Tesoro Corporation. After 20k barrels of crude oil filled a wheat field, and a mere two weeks later, North Dakota officials - who are in no way in the pocket of Tesoro Corp. or were in any way afraid of this becoming an election issue in November - found time to inform the public. After one or two expressions of concern, North Dakota is providing a website so the public can monitor its spills and leaks. They can see spills as far back as 1975. So, someday a website to see the past. Handy.

The company had to know immediately by pressure gauge something was wrong. And, in fact, the Health Department was informed mere hours after it occurred. Somehow, though, the state only thought 750 barrels of oil was involved, and didn't note it was one of the largest onshore spills in U.S. history, covering over seven acres. Fortunately, it somehow did, they say, no damage to water or wildlife. Tesoro says it will cost $4 million to clean up over two years.

Having only a century of experience with pipelines, how much more competent are such companies drilling diagonally deep in the earth, and how valid is their opinion of their competence to control leaks from what is, let's be honest, as disgusting in smell and residue as Earth's colostomy bag?

The Oil and gas drilling industry has a deservedly terrible reputation. Deep Water Horizon, Exxon Valdez, many other smaller but still substantial leaks have made a mess around the world. We understand we need gas and oil for the immediate future, but we seem to have a glut at the moment, and greener energy coming on line, and it strikes me that all this drilling is being done for an immediate profit rather than actual need, and by methods hardly anywhere as fool proof as the industry suggests or can demonstrate. It's a damned difficult feat to do this with no mistakes. Because, like nuclear energy, all it takes is one deep leak under immense pressure to make land or sea desolate.

We're wise to delay till we know what we're doing.