Weld County, Colorado is tiny. A traveler speeding up busy I-25 from Denver to Fort Collins would hardly know that it was there. That is, except for the wells. Tens of thousands of wells are drilled into the earth in the controversial method known as fracking, the modern day high tech version of drilling for gas. The economic survival of an entire county is pitted against environmental concerns.
However, Weld is hardly the only county that has chosen fracking as a prime method of economic development. All over the nation cities and counties are in court to promote, or block this method for extracting oil and natural gas. The process by which oil companies use fracking is fairly well known by now. Hydraulic fracturing is the fracturing of rock by pressurized liquid.
Induced hydraulic fracturing is a well-stimulation technique in which a high-pressure fluid, usually water mixed with sand and chemicals, is injected into a wellbore in order to create small fractures in the deep-rock formations to allow natural gas, petroleum, and brine to migrate to the well.
When the hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, small grains of hydraulic fracturing agents, either sand or aluminium oxide hold open the small fractures once the deep rock achieves geologic equilibrium.
Voila! The earth splits open and new wells come to life or an old well yields like it was young again. This scenario for the environmental lobby is re-enacted over and over again throughout Weld County and throughout much of the region within a day’s drive east of the pristine ski slopes of Colorado.
The controversy isn’t going to end any time soon. As fast as ballot measures pass that restrict the use of fracking, residents of “fracking counties” form committees to explore legal recourse against the regulations. The oil is flowing, but maybe not as quickly as the billable hours from law firms in the middle of the brawl.
Residents of 11 Colorado counties, including Weld voted recently to take the step of attempting to form a 51st State. It would be a state that could frack without opposition, despite environmental consequences. There is a significant financial reward for a state, county, or municipality to be willing to risk the increased incidence of flood and earthquakes that comes with fracking.
Revenue from oil and gas now accounts for more than half of all Weld County income. Noble Energy Inc. and Anadarko Petroleum Corp., two of the largest oil and natural-gas companies in the nation, paid the county $148 million in 2012 property taxes. That’s huge for a county of only 300,000 residents. If anti-fracking groups are successful in halting the movement in Colorado, a major source of investment and jobs in and out of Colorado, dependent on the oil and gas industry will be wiped out.