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Colorado Fracking Rules to Target Methane

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Ninety percent of wells in Colorado are fracked.(Amy Harder)

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado plans to announce a framework targeting methane—a potent greenhouse gas—as part of his state's regulations controlling fracking.

"We are very close now—within the week—to hammering out a specific methane regulatory framework that I think will make sure people's air is much cleaner than what some of their fears would lead them to believe," Hickenlooper said in an interview with National Journal Tuesday. His office confirmed an announcement is expected next week. 

 

In both politics and energy production, Colorado is a bellwether state. So how Hickenlooper moves forward on these issues will be a key indicator of how other states and the country as a whole move forward.

Colorado, which has traditionally ranked in the top 10 of the country's oil and natural-gas producing states, has more than doubled its oil production and increased its gas production by 30 percent since 2005. In that same period, another trend began: Colorado's politics shifted from red, where they were in the 1990's and early 2000's, to blue. After George W. Bush won the state with 52 percent of the vote in 2004, Barack Obama carried the state comfortably in both 2008 and 2012.

It's already known that Hickenlooper's administration is in the process of writing air-quality rules that are expected to be released early next week. This inclusion of methane, a greenhouse gas whose heat-trapping power is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short-term—is a new development. Concerns about methane have grown as the country shifts from coal to natural gas, which burns half as many carbon emissions as coal. The methane could cancel out the other climate benefits, some environmentalists and experts worry.

 

"No one has really broken down methane," Hickenlooper said of states' fracking rules.

The news is coming on the heels of four cities in Colorado—Fort Collins, Boulder, Lafayette, and Broomfield—voting on anti-fracking measures. The first three passed the initiatives by comfortable margins. The measure in Broomfield, the most conservative community, initially failed, but its result was overturned in a recount Thursday. Another recount is now expected.

Meanwhile, the House is expected to vote on legislation next week that bans the Obama administration from regulating fracking, an extraction technique that involves blasting large amounts of sand and water along with chemicals into shale formations to release oil and gas. It's key to developing unconventional fossil resources but controversial for its impact on the environment.

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