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Fracking in Colorado

Flaming water faucets were infamously exposed in the documentaries Gasland and Gasland 2. The water isn’t catching fire–methane in the water is. People are deeply concerned that methane, dredged from kilometers down, is leaking into our drinking water supplies through poorly constructed and maintained oil and gas wells, but methane can be produced by living organisms much closer to the surface too. How can we tell where the methane in the water is coming from? One way is to look at stable isotopes of carbon, but the tests are expensive and require a lot of expertise. But our guest Dr. Lee Stanish explains to host Jim Pullen that she is working on much cheaper ways to trace the source of the methane. Lee is a Research Associate in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She’s trying to raise money for her research through crowd-sourcing–learn more here.

Dr. Lee Stanish

This discussion originally aired on KGNU's award-winning science program How On Earth on Tuesday, February 25th, 2014.


On Friday February 21st, a coalition of groups calling itself Local Control Colorado submitted language to the Colorado Legislative Services for a constitutional amendment to give local communities in Colorado control over  whether to allow  fracking in their communities. KGNU's Maeve Conran spoke with Kaye Fissinger of Local Control Colorado, one of the activists behind the successful ballot measure in Longmont which banned fracking.

This program originally aired on KGNU's Morning Magazine on Feb. 21, 2014.

The ballot language for Local Control Colorado:

Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Colorado: Article XVIII of the constitution of the state of Colorado is amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION to read:

Section 17: Local Control of Oil--‐and--‐Gas Development (1) Purpose and findings.




(3) Local Control of Oil--‐and--‐Gas Development.




(4) Self--‐executing, severability, confliction provisions. ALL PROVISIONS OF THIS SECTION ARE SELF--‐EXECUTING AND SEVERABLE.


The Amazon basin contains the largest tropical rainforest on the planet. It’s been critical not only for its beauty and biodiversity but also for its ability to store more carbon dioxide than it emits. The soil and above-ground biomass of the Amazon makes it one of the largest reservoirs of carbon dioxide. And that has helped to keep climate change from accelerating even faster. But a new study shows that the Amazon’s tropical ecosystems may actually give off more CO2 into the atmosphere than they absorb. To learn what’s shifting in the Amazon basin and the implications of this shift, How One Earth host Susan Moran speaks with one of the authors of the study. John Miller is a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder. Specifically, he’s with NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, which is at the University of Colorado.


To understand the global greenhouse gas budgets, it’s critical to characterize their sources and sinks. Electrical power generation accounts for about a third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the US. While the actual generation of power is only part of the entire production and use cycle of electricity, power generation stations are an important part of the budget. A definitive study of smokestack gases shows that power plant emissions in the US are down and that combined-cycle gas powered plants have much lower emissions than the coal plants they are replacing. How On Earth host Jim Pullen talks with the study's lead author, Dr. Joost de Gouw. Joost is also with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder and also NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL), Chemical Science Division.

Dr. Joost de Gouw

These stories were featured on KGNU's How On Earth on Feb. 11, 2014.


Dr. Lisa McKenzie and colleagues at the Colorado School of Public Health and Brown University have been studying the correlation between birth defects and proximity of pregnant women living close to oil and gas wells in rural Colorado. But after the study's results were published (PDF, 458 KB) in late January, Dr. Larry Wolk, the Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, publicly criticized the work (PDF, 19 KB). Dr. McKenzie joins KGNU's Jim Pullen to discuss the significance of the research and address the criticism. Dr. Wolk with the CDPHE was invited to be interviewed but declined.

This program originally aired on KGNU's Morning Magazine on Feb. 10, 2014.


Work is progressing to understand the sources, sinks and reservoirs of important greenhouse gases. But much about methane remains a mystery. Methane is more than 30 times more effective a greenhouse gas than CO2, so getting a grip on the gas is extremely important for predicting global climate change and its impacts. KGNU's Jim Pullen speaks with Dr. Ed Dlugokencky about why atmospheric methane is creeping up again, after a long hiatus. Dlugokencky is an atmospheric chemist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. He recently co-authored a paper with European colleagues in the journal Science on the methane mystery. In 2013, he won a NOAA’s Outstanding ScientificPaper Award for a 2009 article on observed increases in atmospheric methane.

This program originally aired on KGNU's How On Earth on February 4th, 2014.


The United States has reemerged as a global energy powerhouse after a decades-long slumber. In the fall, we overtook Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of crude oil and natural gas liquids following an explosion in shale oil development. Production in the US will peak by the 2030s after a decade-long plateau, according to the International Energy Agency [PDF].

Domestic production of gas from shale formations is double the combined output of Canada and China, the second and third leading countries. In 2012, shale gas, almost completely derived from hydraulic fracturing, made up about 40% of the US bucket.

In this region, Niobrara shale lies under a large part of northeastern Colorado and leaks into Nebraska, Wyoming, and Kansas. The play is heavily developed in Weld and other eastern counties, and the wave of development is lapping into Boulder and Larimer counties, where it’s meeting stiff resistance from Front Range communities. Bans and long term moratoria have been enacted in Longmont, Boulder, Fort Collins, Lafayette, and Broomfield. Resistors say expanding fossil fuel development threatens the global climate and human and local environmental health.

Nevertheless, a majority of Colorado voters support fracking, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released in November of 2013. This, according to antifracking groups, is due in part to massive amounts of money dumped into advertising and the political process by the oil and gas industry.

Our guest is CU-researcher Dr. Joe Ryan, who leads the $12 million oil and gas study commissioned by the National Science Foundation. The purpose of the study is to learn how to maximize the benefits of developing natural gas while minimizing environmental harm. The team includes air and water quality scientists, social scientists and health experts from Colorado, Michigan and California universities and the national labs. KGNU's Jim Pullen hosts.

This program originally aired on January 13th, 2014, on KGNU's A Public Affair.


A group of community activists have formed the Colorado Community Rights Network to work towards a state-wide ballot initiative that would allow communities in Colorado to deal with fracking and other environmental issues from a community rights perspective. Maeve Conran speaks with Cliff Willmeng with East Boulder County United, the group behind the successful Lafayette ballot initiative that banned fracking. The Colorado Community Rights Network can be contacted by email:

The Community Rights Amendment language has been submitted to the state for review and comment. You can read the proposed amendment here [PDF].


Two Front Range communities--Lafayette and Longmont--have banned tight gas development using horizontal, hydraulic fracturing. Each made active choices about how to assert their rights. To learn more about the two cities’ distinctive approaches to keeping their communities safe from the heavy industrial process, we spoke with representatives from the two movements: Cliff Willmeng, Kevin Lynch, and Ben Price. Cliff, from the environmental group East Boulder County United, is a leader of the antifracking movement in Lafayette. Kevin is with University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Environmental Law Clinic, and he is representing Longmont in their legal battles. Ben Price is the Projects Director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which is active across the country helping communities, including Lafayette, firmly assert their rights. KGNU’s Jim Pullen hosts.

This program aired live on KGNU’s A Public Affair on the morning of January 9th, 2014.


Oil and gas companies have balked at revealing the hundreds of chemicals that are used at fracking sites, increasing concern in communities about potential health risks near drilling operations. Dr. Susan Nagel and her colleagues have just published a report linking endocrine disrupting activity with horizontal fracture well sites in Colorado. A portion of this interview aired on the Morning Magazine on December 25th, 2013. The full interview can be heard here.

The study is titled "Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region". The paper was published in the journal Endocrinology.


Canadian geochemists have completed an assessment of naturally occurring gases in groundwater in a shale gas region that has not yet been developed. The study [PDF] documents baseline pollution levels. That baseline can then be used to conclusively demonstrate how fracking affects groundwater.

Methane, ethane, propane, helium and radon were measured from more than 100 residential and municipal wells overlying the deep Utica shale. Greater than allowed concentrations of methane were found in 14% of the sampled wells. Most of that methane was produced by bacteria in layers near the surface. Elevated concentrations of radon were discovered, too.

The study was conducted by researchers at Concordia University, l'Université du Québec à Montréal, l'Institut national de la recherche scientifique, and GEOTOP.

The Utica shale is buried 5000 m beneath the St. Lawrence Lowlands, an area south of the St. Lawrence River between Quebec City and Montreal. Limited exploration began in 2006, but interest quickened when Denver-based Forest Oil announced a significant discovery in 2007. Forest claims their holdings may contain 4 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves.

Activists and scientists concerned about the development of the Utica shale have accused the committee that chaired the environmental assessment of being prejudiced toward the oil and gas industry.


Oil and gas attorney Matt Sura represents Weld Air and Water and Grand Valley Citizens Alliance.   He spoke with KGNU producer Jim Pullen about the Air Quality Control Commission's proposed rules. Here is a half-hour of that interview recorded at the KGNU studios on Monday, November 25th, 2013.

In mid-November, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission adopted proposed rules to strengthen monitoring and control of air pollutants leaking from the state's 50,000-plus active oil and gas wells. While the rules are being praised for providing groundbreaking protections, some environmental groups and members of the scientific community say the rules should be strengthened when public hearings begin in February. KGNU's Jim Pullen brings us the first part of this two-part feature, which aired on KGNU's Morning Magazine on Wednesday, November 27, 2013. Maeve Conran hosts.

Guest Deborah Rogers and KGNU's Jim Pullen discuss whether there are really a hundred years of tight oil and gas reserves, whether there's a bubble, and what the consequences are. Can our communities rely on the income, or will there even be real income? If we exploit these resources fully, will we endanger the atmosphere, or are there so few resources that we'll run out first?

Rogers speaks widely on the economics of fracking and is a founder of the consulting and educational organization Energy Policy Forum. In 2013, she was appointed to the Department of Interior's, U.S. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a multisector, international group that works toward better management of natural resource revenues. Rogers served on the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas' Eleventh District Advisory Council. She also raises French Alpine goats on a farmstead near Fort Worth, Texas and makes artisanal cheeses.

This program originally aired on KGNU's It's The Economy, October 24th, 2013.


This is the third in a series of long discussions concerning fracking along the Front Range. Ms. Suzanne Jones, City of Boulder Councilperson, Mr. Scott Hall, the CEO of Denver-based Black Diamond Minerals, and Mr. Sam Schabaker, Mountain West Regional Organizer of Food and Water Watch argue whether Colorado communities should enact moratoria fracking. KGNU’s Jim Pullen hosts the discussion.

This program aired on the Morning Magazine on September 12th, 2013, while the historical flood was ravaging the Front Range.


Gavin Dahl explores the coal vs. natural gas debate as well as key facts about the ecological and public health impacts of the extractive industries all around us here in Colorado. Guests are reporter Lee Buchsbaum, former editor of Coal Age Magazine and Coal Transporter Magazine, current contributor to Colorado Biz Magazine and Mining Magazine, and fractivist Shane Davis, formerly with the Sierra Club, who has helped start more than three dozen grassroots organizations in Colorado to fight fracking.


US Representative Jared Polis, Colorado State Representative Jonathan Singer and Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones explore how local governments can have greater control over oil and gas development in their communities. Can Colorado establish a baseline of protections that communities can improve upon--a floor, not a ceiling? With KGNU host Jim Pullen.

This is the second in a series of detailed conversations of fracking along the Front Range. The program originally aired on Thursday, August 15th, on the Morning Magazine.


Energy Production and Earthquakes

University and government experts join us to discuss the risk of earthquakes that are caused by energy extraction. Among the topics we discuss are the rise of earthquakes across the country that began with the onset of hydraulic fracturing, why deep-injection wells used to store fracking wastewater and other industrial wastes can cause damaging earthquakes, and the Colorado connection. We discuss risk of temblors associated not just with oil and gas production, but green energy too—geothermal fields in the Salton Sea at the southern edge of the mighty San Andreas fault system. Also, our panelists address the issue of whether industry unethically interferes with the science.

Our guests say that there is a potentially very serious risk posed by these earthquakes in countries where many buildings are unsound.

With us are Dr. Bill Ellsworth, USGS Earthquake Hazards Program at Menlo Park, Dr. Emily Brodsky, University of California, Santa Cruz, and Dr. Nicholas van der Elst who is with Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. They recently published a triplet of papers in the prestigious journal Science. KGNU's Jim Pullen, who specialized in seismology as a geophysics PhD student at the University of Washington, hosts the conversation.

This report aired on KGNU on July 31, 2013.


Two neighbors, two conflicting stances on oil and gas development. Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway and Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones explore their counties' approaches to oil and gas development, debate their differences, and seek common ground. KGNU’s Jim Pullen hosts.

This is the first in a series of long discussions of fracking along the Front Range. The conversation originally aired July 4th, 2013, on KGNU's Morning Magazine.

Fracking Roundtable

In January, KGNU statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland chaired a panel discussion on fracking featuring representatives from the state, industry and environmental community.

The panelists were:

Matt Lepore - head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

Pete Maysmith - head of Conservation Colorado

Kathleen Sgamma - with Western Energy Alliance

State's lawsuit against Longmont for fracking regulations

State regulators recently implemented new fracking regulations with regard to groundwater protections. But environmental groups and some communities in Colorado, particularly along the heavily populated Front Range, say the new rules don't go far enough.  Some city councils and county commissioners have imposed moratoriums on fracking, and this past November voters in Longmont overwhelmingly approved an outright ban on oil and gas drilling within City limits. As Maeve Conran reports, that ban has drawn the ire of state regulators and the oil and gas industry with two lawsuits pending against the city. This report aired on the Morning Magazine on Monday 12/31/2012.

Rally against Keystone XL and fracking in Denver

DC protestors were supported in cities all over the US. In Denver, about a thousand marched from the Auraria Campus to Civic Center Park to show their support for a healthy climate and opposition to the greed of the fossil fuel industry. Jim Pullen brings us the sights and sounds of the Denver Rally. This story aired on KGNU's Morning Magazine with Maeve Conran on February 19, 2013. For more information, go to

Fracking moritorium petition delivered

On Wednesday February 27th, representatives from a coalition of concerned Coloradans, businesses and environmental advocacy groups delivered more than 14,000 signatures to Governor Hickenlooper's office, calling for a state wide moratorium on fracking.  KGNU's Irene Rodriguez brings us this report and photos.

Click on the image for a larger version Click on the image for a larger version

Jim Pullen spoke with Audy Leggere-Hickey, co-chair for the Boulder County Citizens for Community Rights, about the effort. Listen to this interview here.

The Moral and Economic Arguments for Divestment says that the value of the proven reserves is 25 trillion dollars. What can this movement do to counter this vast sum? To look more closely at the compelling moral and economic arguments for divestment, KGNU producer Jim Pullen spoke with two experts who are involved in the campaign. Dan Apfel is the Executive Director of Responsible Endowments Coalition, which is helping to organize the student movements. And our other guest was Bob Massie, President and CEO of the New Economics Institute, who was involved in the South African divestment campaign. That conversation aired on KGNU's Morning Magazine January 3rd, 2013.

Student leaders take up divestment on Colorado campuses

KGNU continues to look more carefully at divestment. KGNU News Co-Director Joel Edelstein talked with three local activists, who are encouraging their schools to take their money away from fossil fuel companies: Simon Mostafa, from the University of Colorado in Boulder, Kate Josephson, from Naropa, and Mark Chavez, a Community College of Denver student. That conversation aired December 19th, 2012, on KGNU's Morning Magazine.

Bill McKibben's Do the Math Tour comes to Boulder

Bill McKibbon 350org

Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben says that the road to environmental destruction can be expressed through three numbers: 2 degrees Celcius, 565 gigatons, and 2795 gigatons. To stop global temperatures from rising another 2 degrees, we can only dump 565 billion more tons of carbon in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, we've dumped more than half of that into the atmosphere already. But there are almost 3000 billion tons of proven reserves on the books of the fossil fuel companies. And since the value of those companies depends on the proven reserves they control, they will develop them. Unless they are compelled to stop.

McKibben advocates a solution that was effective in stopping the apartheid government in South Africa in the 1980s: divestment. He's calling on universities, churches and other groups to stop investing in fossil fuel companies.

To promote this solution, the founder of, traveled by bus to campuses throughout the nation. On December 3rd, 2012, the tour came to Boulder. He spoke to a packed audience at CU's Glenn Miller Ballroom. KGNU was there, and brings you his complete talk. During the program, McKibben was joined on-stage by Native American rights activist Winona LaDuke and punctuated his talk with a film clip by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and an appearance by filmmaker Josh Fox, who played the banjo.

Copyright KGNU 2013