Neslin brings his message back home

The man tasked with overseeing the oil and gas industry in Colorado continues to say that groundwater contamination is not an issue when it comes to hydraulic fracturing in the state.

David Neslin (pictured), Director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) , told a federal forum this week that the COGCC has investigated hundreds of complaints about water contamination related to hydraulic fracturing, “and to date we’ve not found any instances of groundwater contamination.” Neslin reportedly did not offer any comments about the operations associated with fracking that are vital to the practice.

These operations include mixing, transporting and injecting millions of gallons of toxic fracking fluid into the ground, through aquifers via cement casings. Gas companies must also safely dispose of the wastewater produced by fracking that is laced with toxic chemicals and radioactivity.

Neslin has repeatedly omitted these essential processes from of his discussions of hydraulic fracturing and water contamination. Following his testimony at a congressional hearing in the nation’s capitol earlier this month, Neslin spoke on camera to the Checks and Balances Project and said that cracked pipe casings and leaky wastewater pit liners were not considered part of hydraulic fracturing process that he had just promoted to the senators. During the hearing, like yesterday’s BLM meeting in Golden, Colorado, Neslin repeated that the COGCC had no “verifiable evidence” that fracking has lead to ground water contamination in Colorado.

MORE:

-To see the Checks and Balances report on David Neslin’s definition of hydraulic fracturing click here.

-Read the Greeley Tribune’s report on the federal fracking forum in Colorado this week by clicking here.

-To read about Chesapeake Electric’s suspension of fracking in Pennsylvania after a fracking explosion sent chemicals into nearby waterways click here.

THE BALANCE SHEET: APRIL 26, 2011

Our weekly update to unravel the industry and political spin around the energy debate


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

WE’RE IN THE WRONG LINE OF WORK

While Americans are suffering from pain at the pump, Halliburton reported last week that its first quarter revenue set a company record at $5.3 billion, which is up from $3.8 billion in the first quarter of 2010. First quarter profits were up 148 percent from $206 million in 2010 to $511 million in 2011.

Halliburton cited increased U.S. onshore drilling activity as the reason for its success, with Chairman Dave Lesar stating, “North America delivered strong performance as margins progressed due to increased activity while Eastern Hemisphere operating income was significantly impacted by geopolitical events in North Africa, delays in Iraq, and typical seasonality.”

ANOTHER EARTH DAY, ANOTHER SPILL

A Chesapeake Energy Corp. well blowout occurred in Northern Pennsylvania Tuesday, spilling up to tens of thousands of gallons of toxic, chemical-laden fluid onto area residential land and contaminating a tributary of the Susquehanna River. The incident may be the most serious fracking accident in the history of the commonwealth’s Marcellus Shale development. DeSmogBlog has the story.

WORD GAMES

Last week, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director David Neslin testified before a Senate committee looking into hydraulic fracturing’s less than spotless track record on safety. Contrary to his testimony, where he asserted that groundwater contamination from fracking has never occurred, Neslin told The Checks and Balances Project immediately following the hearing that oil and gas production in Colorado had indeed led to contamination. Most drilling is fracking, so to say fracking does not cause groundwater contamination is disingenuous at best. Watch how Neslin and industry representatives use rhetorical tactics to excuse corporate responsibility for toxic fracking fluid casing leaks and pit overflows.

PRICE, NOT POLICY, DETERMINES HEALTH OF WESTERN ENERGY DEVELOPMENT

Headwater Economics on Tuesday released a report analyzing the relative success of states and communities to maximize energy development’s benefits and minimize its costs. The report concludes with a series of policy recommendations for communities trying to achieve that goal. In five Rocky Mountain, energy-producing states – Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming – Headwater Economics discovered that common sense standards and protections did not hamper energy production. Price was the ultimate factor in determining whether energy development occurs. Read the full report.

DID WE LEARN OUR LESSON FROM THE GULF OIL SPILL DISASTER?

Checks and Balances Deputy Director Matt Garrington asks that question in his guest-commentary piece for Sunday’s Denver Post. Give it a read and let us know what you think.


DID YOU KNOW?

OIL & GAS NY LOBBY FUNDS UP 400 PERCENT IN TWO YEARS
In New York State last year, the oil and gas industry spent $1.6 million on lobbying to fight common sense protections from oil & gas fracking impacts, up from $400,000 in 2008.


COMING UP THIS WEEK

BLM TO REVIEW COMMERCIAL OIL SHALE LEASING PROGRAM

The Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management will host public hearings in three Western states – Colorado, Utah and Wyoming – beginning today to gather input from residents and experts as they review the federal oil shale leasing program. Find out more about the hearings.

Now that gas prices are hovering around $4 per gallon, risky schemes like oil shale are back in the national debate. Oil shale is pure science fiction, as companies have failed to produce commercial oil from oil shale despite a hundred years of experimentation.

Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), Subcommittee Chairman Lamborn (R-CO), Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) have all been throwing about this fantastic tale. Compare what politicians are saying to those in the oil and gas industry, who believe viable oil shale is a decade out or more.

Furthermore, oil shale today is being conflated with shale gas and shale oil, giving the false impression that oil shale is ready for prime time. This has led to inaccurate rhetoric, and it has the potential to mislead investors, policymakers and other Americans interested in real energy solutions.

Compare what politicians are saying to those in the oil and gas industry, who believe viable oil shale is a decade out or more: Oil Shale Quotes – Congress v Industry


CONTACT US

Twitter: @checksandbals | Email: tips@checksandbalances.org

State regulator admits, but not to Congress, that gas production led to water contamination in Colorado

Neslin’s narrow definition of hydraulic fracturing misleads Committee members

**As Pennsylvanians deal with the breaking news that wastewater from a Chesapeake hydraulic fracturing well blowout has entered their drinking supplies, similar stories continue to unfold in Colorado.**

Within minutes after his testimony about the safety of hydraulic fracturing in front of the United States Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works Committee last week, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director David Neslin said that gas production in Colorado has indeed led to groundwater contamination throughout the state. But when testifying, Neslin repeatedly told members of the committee that he had no “verifiable evidence” that fracking had contaminated groundwater supplies or aquifers in Colorado.

Yes, literally moments after the committee hearing ended, Neslin validated what many Coloradans already know: gas development in the state has contaminated Colorado ground water. In an interview with the Checks and Balances Project, Neslin divulged a few details he left out of his testimony. “We have not found a verifiable instance of hydraulic fracturing contaminating ground water, but oil and gas development has contaminated ground water in other ways. Sometimes a pit leaks, sometimes a pit overflows” (emphasis added).

Neslin justifies the contradiction by adopting a blinkered, compartmentalized definition of hydraulic fracturing. By his definition, pit leaks, overflows and even cracks in concrete pipe casings are not considered part of the fracking process, despite being essential components to gas development in Colorado.

Like Neslin, industry also defines hydraulic fracturing using rhetorical tactics. Speaking in April at a journalism lecture, Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon told his audience that, “We can tear up a road, we can be noisy, we can create dust, we can hurt somebody, and sometimes there is a lack of transparency about operations. All those are legitimate concerns, but fracking is not the story” (emphasis added).

This type of messaging has even penetrated national politics. On Thursday morning, the day after a the Chesapeake gas well blew out, spilling thousands of gallons of toxic fracking fluid, the same senator Neslin addressed during his meeting, James Inhofe (R-OK) said, on record, that, “[There’s] never been one case — documented case — of groundwater contamination in the history of the thousands and thousands of hydraulic fracturing” (emphasis added).

It’s true that states vary in how they deal with waste fracking fluid. The state of Pennsylvania, for example, has tried and failed to process its fracking wastewater safely in public water treatment facilities. The failure of treatment plants to remove carcinogens from wastewater and the admission by industry that those toxins had entered drinking supplies has led the state’s governor to order a stoppage to treating the wastewater at public works facilities immediately.

Meanwhile, Colorado stores its waste frack fluid in concrete containment casings and storage pits. Neslin does not consider the disposal of waste produced by fracking a part of the fracking process.

Neslin’s comments raise two questions. First, there is the obvious question of whether or not he was being completely forthright with the Senate committee when he characterized fracking as having never contaminated water supplies. Even if he honestly believes that fracking is not contaminating groundwater supplies, why didn’t the officer tasked with overseeing oil and gas production in Colorado tell the Environment and Public Works Committee that contamination had happened, even if it was, as he suggested, tangentially related to the process.

The second question surrounds his frequent use of the term “verifiable evidence,” when saying that groundwater contamination has not been caused by hydraulic fracturing. Just like his statements about groundwater contamination, Neslin’s use of “verifiable evidence” seems to fall well short of telling the whole truth about gas production in his state.

Dr. Geoffrey Thyne, a geologist tasked with studying contamination in the West Divide Creek in heavily fracked Garfield County, Colorado understands verifiable evidence very well. The geologist is often credited with conducting one of the most conclusive studies connecting ground water contamination with fracking. In fact, Thyne’s West Divide Creek study was deemed so conclusive, and therefore so damning to the gas industry, that many say it led to the loss of his job as a professor at the Colorado School of Mines. Thyne says that gas interests at the university had allegedly pressured Thyne to stop the study. Thyne didn’t stop the study, and he lost his job. But, as Thyne explains in the video below, the verifiable evidence he found while conducting his study suggests that fracking fluids seeped into the West Divide Creek as recently as 2004.

How was Thyne so sure? Just like the situation in Pennsylvania it comes down to salt, which is also found in fracking fluids. When asked about fracking and water contamination during the congressional committee meeting, Neslin did not once bring up the Thyne study.

Despite the contradiction pointed out by the Thyne situation, there still remains the issue of Neslin separating failures in the process associated with fracking from fracking in general. This tactic has become known as compartmentalizing. Community organizer Frank Smith, who advocates for safe drilling procedures in western Colorado happened to be in Washington, D.C. at the same time as Neslin. Smith said Neslin’s selectivity when talking about hydraulic fracking before the Senate committee was a tactic Smith has gotten used to seeing out west. “Too often they don’t want to look holistically at all of it. It’s all one and the same. It’s all part of the same system. If in fact there is a faulty casing, or those fracking chemicals or fluids do in fact end up where they shouldn’t end up that’s all part of the problem,” said Smith.

It should be pointed out that Neslin and all those who answered questions before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee were speaking of their own accord and therefore didn’t have to take an oath before talking. Neslin has returned to Denver where he has been asked to reapply to continue serving as the Director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.