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Hydraulic Fracturing: A Controversy and A Case for Evolved Negotiations, Part Two: A Collision of Conflicting Interests and Conditions

By Lisa Bracken

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Sudden Impact

The panicked voice of our neighbor shouted over the phone, “I think they just blew up the well, bring your camera — and hurry!” She slammed the phone down as I reached for the video camera I’d learned to keep at the ready and headed out the door. Such events had become common-place since the oil and gas industry had entered our neighborhood in 2003 and proceeded to mine natural gas and crude oil from the ‘tight sand’ formation underlying our small rural community along the banks of West Divide Creek in Western Colorado.

By 2004, Garfield County had become the national epicenter of the oil and gas industry’s latest practice – hydraulic fracturing, a still-today unproven technology wherein high volumes of pressurized gases, such as CO2 or fluids are injected underground in order to force open fractures within relatively shallow to deep geologic zones targeting natural gas and oil production.

The explosion of industrial activity brought with it an intense economic surplus; however, much of it was built upon direct investments into community projects by area operators which included strategic funding directed to law enforcement entities, public entertainment venues and event support in partnership with local commerce organizations. Small businesses were attracted by the promise of sustainable activity. Their own operations, earnings and consumerism helped boost the local economy because much of the mining industry’s labor base was transient in nature and drove spending primarily within the sectors of temporary housing, vice/entertainment and fast food/restaurants.

The boom also brought a sudden labor and housing shortage, drugs, crime and strain upon social services. Endless streams of tanker trucks and eighteen wheelers hauling field equipment clotted and rapidly degraded road and bridge infrastructure as grinding and clanging noise pollution echoed off the mountain corridors already flooded with halogen lights illuminating well pads graded ahead of the next drilling rig trucked in from another state to drill the next ten wells.

Industrial waste fluids were being dumped on roads and mixed into ranch and farm lands; dead wildlife lined the county roads, dead goats were being piled up and burned as clouds of noxious fumes belched from huge fuel storage tanks stored a hundred and fifty feet from front porches. As the industrial activity thrived, construction boomed, but agriculture and tourism declined. It soon became evident to many long-time residents that the narrow and deferred economic benefits of the mining industry paled in comparison to the loss of economic diversity and other natural resources, like clean air, water and bio-diversity which supported other industries such as hunting, fishing, ranching, farming and tourism.

The natural gas boom which washed over Garfield County at the launch of the new millennium was merely the latest boom to follow an oil shale bust that had formerly boosted, and then economically devastated the region in the mid-80’s, as uniquely chronicled in Professor Andrew Gulliford’s renowned Boomtown Blues (Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2003).

Hydraulic Fracturing: A Controversy and A Case for Evolved Negotiations,Part Two: A Collision of Conflicting Interests and Conditions by Lisa Bracken


Copyright © 2012 Lisa Bracken
Copyright ©   2012  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  (June – July, 2012)