To frack or not to frack: The Piceance Basin

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo (KJCT) -- In the rock formations of the Piceance Basin, nestled in between Grand Junction, Gunnison and Glenwood Springs, is a hidden deposit of natural gas and shale oil.

66 trillion cubic feet to be exact, according to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey—making it the second largest source of natural gas in the country.

"Some people thought western Colorado and our basin were being forgotten and now we sit on the largest shale gas reserve in the country," said David Ludlam, executive director of West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association. "We're literally sitting on the world's largest ocean of natural gas."

Many are calling the discovery a solution to the Western Slope's lagging economy.

"We need to be able to see the economic recovery that our area has literally been starving for the last eight years," said Ludlam.

Congressman Scott Tipton says fracking for natural gas has the potential to change how the entire world looks at Colorado.

But fracking doesn't come without controversy. Environmentalists say fracking has severe health risks and destroys the land.

According to a study by the Journal of Environmental Quality, fracking not only poses serious threats to the natural areas. There are also documented health risks.

Specifically, the study found fracking chemicals contaminate drinking water.

This specific study poured more than 75,000 gallons of fracking fluid onto a plot of land and found:

  • Within two days all ground plants were dead.

  • Within 10 days, leaves of trees began to turn brown. Within two years over half of the approximately 150 trees were dead.

  • Surface soil concentrations of sodium and chloride increased 50-fold.

Ludlam said fracking for natural gas has more benefits than negatives.

"Natural gas makes for cleaner air,” said Ludlam. “It reduces our foreign trade deficit, creates local jobs. It created reliable energy products that we use every single day for our economy and quality of life."

"It's a great opportunity for an area with an abundance of public lands," said Congressman Scott Tipton.

There's another development on the horizon that could affect western Colorado as well—a pipeline project known as the Jordan Cove Project.

If built, the $7.8-billion project would transport natural gas to a facility in Oregon—and then overseas to places like Japan and South Korea.

Developers would connect the Ruby pipeline, which starts in Wyoming, with the Piceance Basin through the Opal Hub—and would ultimately ship the gas to the proposed facility in Coos Bay, Oregon.

"We also have an opportunity to provide those friends overseas who need secure supplies of energy, which we can provide for decades to come," said Ludlam.

Opponents don't want to further expand the use of fossil fuels-- but Jordan Cove-- and continued fracking in the Piecance Basin—is welcome work for those displaced by the energy industry.

"Using those new technologies to be able to access those reserves of energy,” said Tipton. “To be able to move the country and fuel economy. This is something that creates a real will for our state and our country."

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