Denver is undeniably a special place. From our soaring mountain views and remarkable park system to our diverse communities, the quality of life for residents of the Mile High City is among the best in the nation. Unfortunately, our city is threatened by hydraulic fracturing, which jeopardizes our water, health and sense of community. Much is at stake if we allow this dangerous natural gas and oil extraction method within our city and watershed.
Nearly 40 percent of Denver’s drinking water comes from South Park, a 1,000-square-mile basin southwest of Denver, where the South Platte River begins. In spring, wildflowers carpet the valley floor; autumn burns bright with aspen trees turning yellow, orange, even red. Shockingly, this is where the Bureau of Land Management is considering leasing 280,000 acres for oil and gas development, including fracking.
Can we afford this risk? As The Denver Post has reported, an average of two oil and gas spills occur each day in Colorado. Among these are large spills, like the 7,000 gallons of fracking fluid that flooded the Poudre River last year. It is all but inevitable that fracking fluids — which contain carcinogenic chemicals, heavy salts and metals, and possibly even radioactive elements — will spill into Denver’s drinking water supply. Who will pay to clean our water of this contamination? Denver ratepayers? Business owners? Working families who are least able to shoulder these increased costs?
Our threatened Denver headwaters support world-class fishing and hunting, and attract thousands of tourists annually. The forks of the South Platte and Spinney Reservoir are designated Gold Medal fisheries by Colorado Parks & Wildlife. Many South Park ranches depend upon irrigation. Denver’s burgeoning craft beer industry relies upon a sustainable supply of safe, clean water. We cannot jeopardize these iconic, job-creating industries by allowing fracking in South Park.
The far Northeast Denver community, where two-thirds of residents are people of color, may soon be fracked. Real estate developers have been leasing land for future fracking near Green Valley Ranch and Montbello. These are some of the fastest-growing and most affordable areas to live in Denver, and families have no idea that the ground below their houses is literally being sold out from under them.
Residents will be exposed to the public health, safety and property-value impacts of fracking. Recent air pollution studies indicate that people living close to fracking wells have a higher risk of exposure to cancer-causing benzene. One in 2014 found an association between birth defects and proximity to oil and gas sites during pregnancy. And some homes have lost up to 75 percent of their value due to nearby fracking operations.
It’s common sense, economic wisdom and a moral imperative: We must not Denver’s water, air or people. History proves that societies that protect the natural environment are healthier, happier and more prosperous than those that foul their waters and damage their landscapes.