The town of Erie is moving forward with plans to mitigate, as much as it can with its limited authority over oil and gas operations, potential hazards posed by well operators who use hydraulic fracturing to extract resources.
Fracking—the process of injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well to fracture oil- and gas-rich shale deep underground—became a concern earlier this month when residents learned that Encana Oil & Gas planned to open eight wells within a few hundred yards of both Red Hawk and Erie elementary schools. Even though Encana officials say the practice is both safe and heavily regulated by the state, many community members report a variety of health affects they suspect are connected to air emissions from fracking operations.
On Tuesday, the Erie Board of Trustees announced the formation of a Comprehensive Community and Environment Action Plan that seeks to increase air and water monitoring for signs of fracking-related pollution and to beef up the town’s oversight of land use issues around drilling operations.
Mayor Joe Wilson said last week that the town is working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to help design and implement a new air-quality monitoring system at six sites in Erie, and that the town’s water treatment facility would begin testing incoming water for signs of fracking chemicals.
Additionally, he said the town would be working with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency that issues drilling permits, to request that future permits only be issued after oil and gas companies agree to additional rules specific to Erie. Those include requiring operators to fit equipment with high-capture ventilation devices to further protect against air emissions, agree to limitations on truck traffic, and require a closed-loop system for all drilling and fracking operations to eliminate the use of open pits, among other requirements.
“We would be addressing the concerns from all sides,” Wilson said.
But as proactive as the town is being, it can only do so much. Municipalities cannot ban fracking and the COGCC isn’t obligated to demand oil and gas companies comply with Erie’s wish list of enhanced safety requirements. It is, however, moving forward on what it can—the water and air monitoring plans. Wilson said the cost of installing air monitoring stations “is negligible in the long run,” at a cost of about $6,000 per site. He said he would ask oil and gas companies to contribute to the cost as a sign of good will. Monitoring inflow at the water treatment facility can be added to ongoing operations at little cost.
Even if COGCC agrees that oil and gas companies must adhere to Erie’s heightened requirements to qualify for a drilling permit, it will not affect the dozens of currently permitted well sites in and around Erie. However, Wendy Wiedenbeck, the community relations advisor for Encana, said the company has agreed to install high-capture equipment on its eight wells to be located near the elementary schools to ensure they go “above and beyond the requirements of the CDPHE” for air emissions, even though they’re already permitted and not required by the state to do so.
The community will be updated on Erie’s plan at the next trustees meeting on Feb. 14.