Like most people, I had no idea what hydraulic fracturing (fracking) was until one day over two years ago. At the time, I was living in New York City where land isn’t even available for elbow room, let alone to frack. But, one clear day in January, I got a call from my mother who had just received a letter in the mail.
She called to tell me she had received a lease agreement from an oil and gas company. My parents had moved to Northeast Ohio a couple years prior and purchased a pretty house in a small farming community. They chose this property because it abutted protected wetlands. And now, this oil and gas company wanted to frack wells on their property.
Like other states in the rust belt, Ohio had been hit hard by the recession, and communities were suffering. The developer of my parents’ subdivision was no exception. The neighborhood was not built out and new homes weren’t in demand, so it came as no surprise that when an oil and gas company approached the developer with an offer to drill natural gas wells in the subdivision with the promise of hefty compensation, he readily accepted.
In order to get around the protected wetlands, the proposed drilling would happen on adjacent property and the drilling would go horizontally under multiple houses. Because the oil and gas company needed more acreage than the developer had, several residents were contacted with the purpose of leasing their land in order to drill.
Feeling uneasy about the situation, my mom did her research and discovered the environmental hazards associated with hydraulic fractured wells, as well as the possibility of decreased property values. Her suspicions were confirmed when she discovered that in 2008, a house in a neighboring town was blown off its foundation from a faulty gas well that leaked oil and gas into the aquifer. Last spring in another neighboring town a poorly maintained well exploded, spewing crude oil, brine, and natural gas into a nearby stream — next to a busy commercial district.
Although my parents didn’t sign the lease, you don’t have to venture too far from their house today to find that hydraulic fracturing had already invaded their area: Within a mile radius of my parents’ home, there are more than eight producing wells, and over 2,324 producing wells in their county alone — most of which had been drilled since 2007. Many of these were drilled unbeknownst to the community, and the large wells litter the landscape — even in public open spaces.
I moved out to Boulder in September because, like most of the people here, I love the outdoors. The scenery and environmental spirit here are unparalleled. The open spaces in which Boulder residents have access are breathtaking.
But, the danger of fracking in these public lands is imminent. There are over 45,000 fracked wells in Colorado, with more than one spill each day. In 2008, a wastewater pit in Western Colorado leaked 1.6 million gallons of fluid, which migrated into the Colorado River–the source of drinking water for 30 million Westerners downstream.
We need to speak out clearly and say we don’t want drilling in Boulder County. Although the Boulder County Commissioners passed a 6-month moratorium on accepting and processing new applications for oil and gas drilling operations in our open spaces, this is just a first step. During these six months, I encourage the county commissioners to use our taxpayer dollars to investigate all legal options to ban fracking in Boulder County.
As my parents discovered, there is no way to make fracking perfectly safe. Once our land and water have been fracked, the damage can’t be undone. Is that a risk we are willing to take on the landscape that so many of us enjoy? The land that was purchased with taxpayer dollars to be enjoyed by all as open space? To truly protect the health of our families, our community, and our environment, Boulder County should follow the lead of dozens of other localities across the United States that have passed measures to ban fracking.
Melissa A. Schiltz lives in Boulder.