Regulators question claims in documentary ‘Gasland’

State regulators are refuting information from the award-winning documentary “Gasland,” written and directed by Josh Fox.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, in a statement released Thursday at a meeting in Durango, concluded that two of the three Weld County water wells Fox examined contained “biogenic” gas unrelated to oil and gas activity.

One of the more memorable moments of the film is when a resident ignites water flowing from his tap with a lighter.

Industry advocate Christi Zeller, executive director of the La Plata Energy Council, said such documentaries can increase the number of requests for water-well monitoring by area residents, paid for by taxpayers through the commission,

“Money is getting eaten up that could be used for other important things, such as plugging old wells,” Zeller said.

Although the film generated discussion and concern in a number of communities in northern Colorado, the reaction has been minimal in La Plata County, Zeller said.

This may be a result of a more-educated citizenry, she said.

“We have the only data in the U.S. for well testing that dates back more than a decade,” Zeller said.

The film, which won a special jury prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, focuses on a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which uses high-pressure water and chemicals to break up rock formations and release gas. Questions have been raised about fracking’s potential to contaminate drinking water supplies.

Fracking has been used for decades in the San Juan Basin to extract methane from deep coal beds.

Zeller said when locals do call with concerns, the data available often alleviates them.

Debbie Baldwin, an environmental manager for the oil and gas commission, said Thursday the film didn’t have all its facts straight with regard to contamination in the state.

“We certainly can’t say that oil and gas operations never impact groundwater because, in fact, it does happen,” she said. “But some of the information about the state of Colorado was incorrect in that film.”

The documentary is scheduled to be shown at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Lavenia McCoy Library in Bayfield.

The discussion came at a meeting of the Gas and Oil Regulatory Team, a group of government and industry technical experts that meets periodically in La Plata County to discuss issues of local concern. Gavin Wisdom is an intern at The Durango Herald.