Colorado Has Been Fracking For 40 Years; Why All The Fuss?

By David Biederman, reprinted from

In the coming months, Coloradans will have the power to vote on the future role of fracking in the state. As a result, Colorado has become a focal point for environmental groups seeking moratoriums and bans on hydraulic fracturing, a.k.a. “fracking,” an oil and gas technology they claim is new, untested, unproven, and a significant risk to health and safety. Contrary to the anti-fracking narrative, fracking has been safely conducted in the state not for years but for decades.

A scientific paper from forty years ago gives a glimpse into Colorado’s prolific fracking past. According to the executive summary, “The Wattenberg field near Denver is a reservoir that typifies the ‘tight gas reservoir.’ Through advancements in fracturing [fracking] technology, Wattenberg is now considered commercial.”

The region north of Denver and extending to Greeley Colorado, where anti-fracking activists are currently campaigning “was used as a laboratory to develop the optimum fracturing treatment” since the 1970’s. Claims that there has not been significant scientific study into fracturing betray an ignorance of forty years of R&D.

Hydraulic fracturing and the people of the oil and gas industry have long played a safe and productive role in the region. In 2008, just one year prior to the current boom, Weld County, northeast of Denver was already the largest gas producing county in all of Colorado. That year the Energy Information Administration (EIA) ranked Colorado’s Wattenberg as having the 9th largest proven reserves of any Wet Natural Gas Field in the Nation. The greater DJ Basin had over 20,000 wells, 11,000 of which were within the Wattenberg, and many of which had been hydraulically fractured not just once, but multiple times throughout the years. In 2008 the region produced 190 billion cubic feet of natural gas, and 2.8 trillion cubic feet of gas since the field’s discovery in 1970.

And things are getting even better. In of October 2009, EOG Resources announced that it had successfully drilled and hydraulically fractured a horizontal well in Weld County Colorado. Initial production from this well was 1,558 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd), an extraordinary achievement which signaled that still greater wealth could be derived from the Wattenberg. The company demonstrated that hydraulically fracturing mechanically selected intervals of a horizontal well yielded greater production, and used less surface land than had previously been possible from multiple vertical wells. Yet, instead of uniform celebration, this success attracted widespread environmental and anti-development opposition leading to proposals to ban the practice in Colorado.

Contrast this to the social environment of the early 1970’s when it was announced that “One of the most significant aspects of the Wattenberg…… development program has been the unlocking of gas reserves ….. through new hydraulic fracturing technology.” This announcement wasn’t against a backdrop of fear and distrust; in a period of gas shortages and the OPEC Oil embargo, this achievement was welcomed. Research and development had caused technological improvements, which would ultimately benefit humanity.

The truth is that oil and gas professionals, and their technology of hydraulic fracturing have been a vital part of the Colorado for decades. As the 1976 petroleum engineering conference paper celebrates, the “Wattenberg has been the stage for the evolution of ‘Massive Hydraulic Fracturing’ (MHF)”, a stage the technology continues to perform on today.

What is new is the widespread distrust of a technology and industry that has called Colorado home for decades. If the anti-fracking activists succeed in pushing the fiction that fracking is new and untested, the result could be a tragic loss for the state, and the execution of an enormous injustice against an industry and its technology.

David Biederman in a Researcher and Writer for the Center For Industrial Progress and a Blogger at The Objective Standard.