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Company’s billion-barrel oil boom stirs fracking fears along Colorado’s Front Range

Revelations Monday that Houston-based Anadarko may be sitting on up to a billion barrels of oil along Colorado’s Front Range immediately raised concerns about the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing in an area of increased residential growth in recent years.

Anadarko plans to step up oil drilling in the Wattenberg Field over the Niobrara Shale formation, mostly in Weld County. Estimates put the overall revenue flowing into Colorado at $4 billion a year. Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday issued a statement backing expansion.

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“We look forward to supporting Anadarko, its workforce of 1,000 people already here and the thousands of contractors it hires throughout the state,” Hickenlooper said. “We also continue to work proactively to maintain the highest safety and environmental standards for oil and gas companies in Colorado, while also cutting permit times and making it easier and more predictable to develop natural gas and oil here.”

Groups like Clean Water Action have been actively campaigning ahead of a new boom in the Niobrara formation, which stretches from Denver to Wyoming along the densely populated Front Range of Colorado. An official for the group on Monday called Anadarko’s announcement a “mixed bag” of economic benefit and potential pollution.

CWA’s biggest concern? Hydrayulic fracturing, or fracking, which injects millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and undisclosed chemicals under high pressure into natural gas and oil wells to break up tight geological formations and free up more oil and gas.

“What does fracking bring to communities where wells are drilled?” Clean Water Action asks on its website. “Fracking brings wells 200 feet away from the backyards and parks where our children play. It brings water and air pollution from wells and open chemical pits, wastewater laced with toxins, and soot from hundreds of construction vehicles. Fracking brings new gas and income to the communities, but at what cost?”

There is growing concern among citizen activist groups about the impact that increased drilling in the Niobrara formation will have on air and water quality and property rights. The Longmont City Council will hold an informational meeting tonight at 7 to discuss an Anadarko plan to drill near Union Reservoir.

Community activists on Colorado’s Western Slope who saw unprecedented drilling during a major natural gas boom that peaked in the latter part of the last decade say residents of the Front Range are right to get organized.

“It is the same method of operation [on the Front Range] and the rules have all these backdoor loopholes and aren’t going to protect anybody,” said Lisa Bracken, who has been battling the state and gas giant EnCana on her property in Garfield County since 2004. “Any delusion that they will is going to be costly in the end and so people are right to be freaking out. It’s important that they start educating themselves and organizing and trying to get the best practices in place.”

Judy Jordan, the former Garfield County oil and gas liaison between residents, the industry and elected politicians, said it’s easier for citizen voices to be heard if there are a lot of them.

“There are a lot of aspects of oil and gas development that make it anathema to a community when it happens in their midst,” Jordan said in an earlier interview. “Up until recently, the lion’s share of the development was happening in places that were pretty remote.”

Jordan says she was fired by the Garfield County commissioners this summer because of industry pressure.

“When you had one person out in the middle of nowhere and they were complaining to me, there was virtually nothing I could do to help except beg the oil and gas companies to do something,” Jordan added. “There’s attention that’s called to it when it’s happening in a more densely populated area.

There has been a growing debate over local control versus state authority versus federal oversight of the oil and gas industry. Cory Gardner, the Republican congressman who represents Colorado’s 4th Congressional District, including Weld County, has consistently tried to strip away the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since being elected last year. Anadarko has contributed to Gardner’s election campaigns.

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