Expert: America’s energy independence on the upswing

FORT COLLINS – America is reducing its energy dependence on foreign countries and, as a result, has more energy security than it has had in years, according to a former EPA administrator who spoke at the Foothills Rotary Club Tuesday.

Much of this improvement is due to the country’s ability to extract larger amounts of natural gas using fracking, according to Dr. J Winston Porter, a Savannah, Ga.-based energy consultant and fracking proponent.

“We came along kind of dumb and lucky and found all of this natural gas, which is now replacing coal,” Porter said. “Carbon emissions are at the lowest level in 20 years, simply by changing our fuel.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial topic in Northern Colorado. Opponents of fracking cite concerns about air and water quality as fracking creeps closer to residential areas. Proponents argue that fracking has been practiced for several years with no significant health results.

Porter noted that fracking is an efficient way to coax oil and gas from reserves through injection. Fracking is 99 percent water, a half percent sand and a half percent chemicals, he said.

But some rotary members questioned the practice, citing concerns about chemicals used at fracking sites. Porter said those worries are overblown, but he acknowledged there are areas that need oversight.

“It’s one of those things where it does have some issues,” he said. “It’s not a big joke. There are two million oil wells in the country and they all have potential for damage if you’re not careful.”

The most notable issues include water quality, how much water is being used and if companies are following EPA regulations. Porter said Colorado’s recent approval of rules governing oil and gas emissions has made the state a national leader in regulating energy production.

“It is important to have good regulations,” he said. “It’s also important that you become a leader with realistic, but tough regulations.”

Suzanne Miller, event coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Innosphere and a rotary member, said that the regulations make her feel safe.

“I think fracking is a positive thing,” she said. “The regulations are there to ensure our safety, and it benefits our economy in a great way.”

Other members noted there are conflicting views on fracking in Northern Colorado that could be attributed to a lack of information.

“It’s important to take the information and actually look at the numbers and then look at the alternatives,” Bob Sanderson, an agent with State Farm Insurance and former Fort Collins Rotary president said. “Everyone is all for clean energy, but no one is turning down their thermostat or not using their car.”

Colorado’s energy mix is primarily a balance of 32 percent natural gas, 32 percent petroleum, and 25 percent coal. However, natural gas derived from fracking is on the rise. As of Feb. 5, 2014, there were 51,824 active wells in the state, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Weld County leads the state with 21,033 active wells.

Porter said that though there is some push back when it comes to fracking, the dissent is not necessarily a bad thing.

“Almost everywhere there is some opposition about fracking,” he said. “It’s important for us to address those concerns; we’re not all the same. People are going to disagree.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the location of this speech. It occurred at the Foothills Rotary Club, not the Fort Collins Rotary Club.

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