Interview with Biologist Shane Davis on Fracking Colorado

09/01/2014 19:55

Colorado had quite a year in 2013. Aside from record setting forest fires, warming temperatures and continued pine beetle infestations, Colorado had a storm in September, typically our dryest month of the year, that has been referred to as a 100 year to a 500 year to even a thousand year flood. Whatever the case, it was a big, big flood with lots and lots of rain, around 17 inches of rain equivalent to around 20 feet of snow. 

A drilling rig in Weld County inundated by flood waters near a residential home on September 13, 2013. Photo credit: The Denver Channel

A drilling rig in Weld County inundated by flood waters near a residential home
on September 13, 2013. Photo credit: The Denver Channel

Shane Davis, a person who feels strongly about fracking and flooding, took some time out of his busy day to talk with me for this EcoWatch exclusive interview. For all of you who don’t know Shane Davis, let me introduce him to you. He is an interesting guy. For starters, his boyhood found him living on the border of Canada and northern Idaho. This put him into the natural world from the very beginning. He’d say he’s been an activist concerned for the environment since the age of seven or eight when he became fully aware of the environment. He had an innate response to the environment. Davis comes equipped with much experience. He was a park ranger for many years, helping create stewards of the natural world as an “interpreter naturalist.”

He worked for the Colorado State Parks, Department of Natural Resources and in the South Pacific as a marine biologist for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Davis is a biologist by training. He is a guy with a vast yearning for discovery. He initially focused on biology in college and then switched to molecular genetics, being a National Science Foundation grant recipient in this area. He also received a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) medal for his work oversees managing an environmental safety and security pilot program. 

Davis became interested in fracking more than years ago while living in Firestone, CO. He helped start the first grassroots organization for anti-fracking in Colorado in mid 2010, and created the website that he maintains with a Facebook counterpart. He is currently the Oil and Research Manager at Sierra Club’s Rocky Mountain Chapter and the regional campaign director for Gasland. In September, Davis took all kinds of people—several dozen—from places like CNN, NBC, NPR, New York Times into the field during and after the flooding via five flights over the heavily affected areas and on the ground dozens of times surveying the damage. 

Map of Weld County and neighboring Larimer, Boulder, Broomfield counties showing fracking directions.

Map of Weld County and neighboring Larimer, Boulder, Broomfield counties showing fracking directional wells.

Fracking is a practice that has been used by the oil and gas industry for quite sometime. However its use has been becoming much more sophisticated and escalating at a significant proportion in recent times as oil and gas deposits have been getting scarcer and the exemptions of the 2005 Energy Policy Act kicked in. 

Fracking releases oil and gas deposits by drilling down often to depths of two miles or greater and then, in more recent times, horizontally. In Colorado’s Wattenberg oil field in the Denver-Julesburg Basin the current target depths are 7,000 to deeper than 8,000 feet. Injecting water and chemicals at pressure creates a multitude of fractures in the surrounding rock releasing the trapped oil and gas. For a typical well two to four million gallons of water is used. Four to five, or even up to nine, million gallons of water can be used in a horizontal well.

The wastewater mixed with toxic chemicals gets pumped out and often injected into auxiliary holding wells and capped. The oil and gas is released and moves up the well. Many people living near the well sites voice concern and examples of harm to their health, while the general industry stance appears to say that the fracking process is entirely safe and free of harm to people and the environment.

There are about 51,000 active gas wells in Colorado, and 79,000 inactive wells—50-55 percent of these are awaiting the new fracking technology. So approximately 130,000 completed wells exist in Colorado. Weld County amazingly has about 21,000 active wells, more than in any other Colorado county or any other county in the U.S. 

MS: Is fracking safe?

SD: Absolutely not. It never will be.

MS: Is using our water worth it for going after oil and gas?

SD: I am absolutely appalled that the oil and gas industry is using our most valuable resource—water—to mine for something far less valuable.

MS: Why are you passionate about preventing fracking?

SD: I think, number one, is to protect the health and safety and welfare of the environment and citizens from the adverse impacts—the very harmful impacts of the fracking process and the drilling … just everything the oil and gas extraction industry encompasses. But I think even more so, we are so much more smarter, yet extracting yet another fossil fuel. I firmly believe we are going down, backwards. We need to go forward, and have research and development that focuses solely on healthy energies that allows the U.S. to have healthy energy democracy not an extractive oligarchic sort of energy island. Seriously, an oil-garchy is what we call it. We are just going in the wrong direction to serious consequences.

MS: Why should we be concerned about fracking? 

SD: Well I think in short why the citizens of America or the globe should be concerned about fracking is that it’s a largely unregulated industry that is not for the benefit of energy democracy in America or the health and welfare of the people, and it’s for the less than 1 percent, and it’s extremely damaging, it’s environmental catastrophe waiting to happen decades from now and human health catastrophe.

Damage in the flood plain. Flood water flows forcefully through this oil and gas structure. Photo credit: Shane Davis

Damage in the flood plain. Flood water flows forcefully through this oil and gas structure. Photo credit: Shane Davis

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