The coming storm of fracking operations in Boulder County

Map of active oil and gas wells in Boulder and western Weld counties

As Boulder County struggles to rewrite its current oil and gas regulations, the petroleum extraction industry has already begun its blitzkrieg of our lands. As clearly illustrated by the maps included here, a wave of environmental and property value destruction is rolling into Boulder County from Weld County to the east like a tsunami. And it is a tsunami that has the potential to undo a half-century of progressive land use decisions that have helped shape Boulder County into one of the nation’s most desirable places to live.

What took a half-century to create and protect may well be lost forever in the next three to five years if our county and city leaders fail to take bold action to confront the threat rather than seeking meek compromises with industry because they fear lawsuits and protracted legal battles.

To save Boulder County’s quality of life will require creative, outside-the-box thinking. The idea that asking oil and gas companies to voluntarily agree to set back their wells from occupied structures an extra 150 feet, or not too much less than the length of a single climbing rope, will somehow turn back this coming tide of devastation is the equivalent of using an umbrella to try to thwart the destructive power of a hurricane.

The following statistics are from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and have been provided courtesy of Shane Davis, chair of the Poudre Canyon Group of the Sierra Club, and can be viewed at They demonstrate the urgency of Boulder County’s current predicament with regard to the impending assault by the oil and gas industry.

Map of fracking permits in Boulder County | Map provided by

As of Nov. 24, Boulder County currently has:

• 784 – Wells of all statuses

• 169 – Abandoned oil and gas locations (wells are still there awaiting re-entry and re-drilling)

• 108 – Dead and abandoned oil and gas wells (pose significant threat from seeping and well-bore failure rates)

• 14 – Currently being drilled

• 141 – Plugged and abandoned oil and gas wells that pose significant threat from seeping and well-bore failure rates. Many are in residential properties, and homes may have been built on top of oil and gas wells. Some homes have exploded and people have been harmed.

• 306 – Producing/active oil and gas wells (each condensate tank releases two tons of toxic hydrocarbon vapors per year)

• 2 – Shut in. Production has been temporarily suspended, usually for market-driven reasons.

• 1- Temporarily abandoned

• 4 – Unknown status

• 99 – Historic toxic waste evaporation pits (all abandoned at this time, some near or under residential homes).

Known oil and gas activity coming to Boulder County once the county’s current moratorium expires:

• 56 – New approved permits, all from Encana

• 24 – Newly approved location permits — five are new drilling locations, but 19 are re-entries/re-drilling of historic wells.

To understand where Boulder County is likely headed if the oil and gas industry and the State of Colorado have their way, consider the following statistics from neighboring Weld County:

• 19,000 – Active oil and gas wells

• 646 – Public complaints on file at COGCC

• 3,974 – Alleged oil and gas operator violations

• 1,772 – Toxic fluid spills/releases, (43 percent have contaminated groundwater with chemicals such as benzene, toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene and other hazardous chemicals).

• Up to 824,600 gallons of oil (carcinogenic hydrocarbons) have been spilled and “unrecovered” in Weld County.

• Up to 383,600 gallons of produced water (toxic industrial waste) has been spilled and “unrecovered” in Weld County.

• Up to 547,400 gallons of “other” fluid has been spilled and “unrecovered” in Weld County. (“Other” may include toxic fracking fluids.)