The Shale Revolution: Weld County’s Golden Goose- Part Two

Left:   Image courtesy of EcoNation, NZ.    Right:   Map of active oil and natural gas wells in Colorado.
Left: Image courtesy of EcoNation, NZ. Right: Map of active oil and natural gas wells in Colorado.

In Part Two of the Shale Revolution, we look at the environmental concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing, particularly the air quality along the Front Range.    We interview Detlev Helmig, an atmospheric scientist, who monitors the air quality along the front range.    We also discuss why well setbacks are such a contentious issue in Colorado.

Producer and Host:   Jill Sjong
Engineer:   Maeve Conran
Executive Producer:   Jill Sjong

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The Shale Revolution: Weld County’s Golden Goose- Part One

Left: Image courtesy of EcoNation, NZ. Right: Map of active oil and natural gas wells in Colorado.
Left: Image courtesy of EcoNation, NZ. Right: Map of active oil and natural gas wells in Colorado.

This week on How on Earth, we look at the shale industry, which has transformed this country in ways we could not have imagined a decade ago.    How did this happen?   Where do experts think the fracking industry might be going?     In this two-part series, we consider why Wall Street and environmentalists are becoming strange new allies.

We interview Paula Noonan from Colorado Watch, the platform for tracking Colorado Legislature.   We also listen to excerpts from Bethany McLean, author of Saudi America:   the Truth about Fracking and how it’s Changing the World.

Host/Producer:     Jill Sjong
Engineer:   Maeve Conran
Executive Producer:   Susan Moran

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Health Impacts of Oil/Gas Drilling

A well site next to Silver Creek elementary school in Thorton, Colo. Photo credit: Ted Wood/The Story Group
A well site next to Silver Creek elementary school in Thorton, Colo.
Photo credit: Ted Wood/The Story Group

Drilling’s Health Impacts (start time: 7:50): A pressing question on the minds of many Colorado residents, health experts, and others amidst a surge of oil and gas activity is this: Does living near an oil and gas well harm your health? A scientist at the forefront of exploring such questions is Dr. Lisa McKenzie, a professor of environmental epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz. She is the lead author on a recently published study that examines the potential impact of nearby oil and gas drilling on childhood cancer rates. The study’s important findings were challenged by the state Health Department, whose recent assessment concludes that nearby oil and gas operations poses minimal risk to residents. Dr. McKenzie  talks with How On Earth’s Susan Moran about her study, and the complex science of risk, correlation and causation.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Impacts of Fracking

A natural gas rig near Rifle, Colorado. © AP Photo/David Zalubowsk
A natural gas rig near Rifle, Colorado.
© AP Photo/David Zalubowsk

In Colorado, a boom in methane development over the past few years has raised questions about whether the environmental impacts are outpacing scientists’ ability to measure them. Shelley Schlender and Daniel Glick discuss the current state of the science looking into fracking’s impacts.  Here is a compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking.

Hosts: Daniel Glick, Shelley Schlender
Producer: Joel Parker
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Headlines: Beth Bennett, Natalia Bayona, Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Weather Drones // The late Dr. Theo Colborn

Brian ArgrowWeather drones (start time 5:10) Brian Argrow, former professor and Associate Dean of engineering at CU Boulder, joins us in the studio to talk about the recent formation Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Sever Storm Research Group.  The group is a collaboration between the CU Boulder and the University of Nebraska-LIncoln who have been working together since 2006.  The group now consists of a large number of members including local national labs and university groups.  The purpose of their research is to learn more about storm formation in order to improve emergency response time.

Leo Colburn

Dr. Theo Colborn (start time 15:22) Dr. Theo Colborn passed away on Sunday December 15th at the age of 87.  She was a scientists, activist and founder of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX).  The exchange served to collect and disseminate scientific evidence on the effects of exposure to low-levels of industrial chemicals.  During this pre-recoreded interview from our colleagues at KVNF Paonia Public Radio, she talks about the lack of scientific testing methods for fracking fluids.

Host, Producer, Engineer: Kendra Krueger
Theo Colborn Interview courtesy of: KVNF Paonia Public Radio
Executive Producers: Kendra Krueger, Jane Palmer

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Testing the Water

Mark Williams
Mark Williams, co-founder and director of the Colorado Water and Energy Research Center

Testing the Water (Start time 3:30) What exactly is in our water—the stuff we drink, shower in and use to wash our vegetables? This is a question lots of Coloradans have started to ask in the last few years as oil and gas operations have ramped up in the state. Several communities have become very concerned how nearby drilling operations might be adversely affecting the quality of their water supply. We’ve seen the videos of people living near to fracking wells lighting their tap water, and we’ve heard the stories about the possible health impacts but how much of this is anti-fracking dramatization and how much is there really to be concerned about?  How much is energy development in Colorado affecting the water supply and how can we, that is Jane and Joe public, find out the vital statistics of our water quality?

Co-host Jane Palmer discusses these questions with hydrologist Mark Williams from the University of Colorado. Williams is the co-founder of the Colorado Water and Energy Research Center (CWERC) and he has conducted projects around the state looking at the impacts of energy operations on both water and air quality.  He has also developed a guide to help residents who live near oil and gas development test their water. The “how to” guide shows well owners how energy-related or other activities might affect their groundwater.

Executive Producer: Joel Parker
Producer: Jane Palmer
Co-hosts: Jane Palmer, Ted Burnham
Engineer: Ted Burnham
Additional Contributions: Shelley Schlender

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Tracing Methane’s Source in Drinking Water // Safe Place for Captive Wolves

lee-stanish__120by180Methane in Drinking Water (start time 05:36) Flaming water faucets were infamously exposed in the documentaries Gasland and Gasland 2. The water isn’t catching fire–methane in the water is. People are deeply concerned that methane, dredged from kilometers down, is leaking into our drinking water supplies through poorly constructed and maintained oil and gas wells, but methane can be produced by living organisms much closer to the surface too. How can we tell where the methane in the water is coming from? One way is to look at stable isotopes of carbon, but the tests are expensive and require a lot of expertise. But our guest Dr. Lee Stanish explains to host Jim Pullen that she is working on much cheaper ways to trace the source of the methane. Lee is a Research Associate in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She’s trying to raise money for her research through crowd-sourcing–learn more here.

Apollo-KWHaven for Captive Wolves (start time 14:25) Right now in the United States, about a quarter of a million wolves live in captivity and fewer than 10,000 wolves in the wild. Most of the captive wolves born each year do not survive to see their first birthday.  They’re either destroyed or they die of neglect.  Colorado’s Mission Wolf refuge has rescued three dozen of these born-in-a-cage wolves to give them a better life, and to use some of them as ambassadors who educate people around the U-S about the amazing intelligence of wolves, and their plight. How On Earth’s Shelley Schlender and Boulder Naturalist and KGNU volunteer, Steve Jones, bring us the story.

Hosts: Beth Bartel and Jim Pullen
Producer/Engineer/Executive Producer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Shelley Schlender and Joel Parker

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Big Game, Warm World // Hour of Code

Bull_elk_bugling_in_the_gibbon_meadow_in_the_yellowstone_national_parkBig Game and Climate Change (start time 5:00) Last week, the National Resource Council released some serious warnings about climate change, saying its impacts could be abrupt and surprising. But as How on Earth contributor Brian Calvert reports, the National Wildlife Federation says big game is already getting hit. Species from mule deer to antelope to bear are all dealing with climate change in their own ways. Only elk are faring better, at least for now. All of that could mean serious changes for Colorado’s hunters and wildlife watchers, says, Dr. Doug Inkley, the senior wildlife biologist for the organization and the lead author of a recent report, “Nowhere to Hide: Big Game Wildlife in a Warming World.”

Cu_computer_scienceHour of Code (start time 12:30) Coding is not just a magic trick where ones and zeros make Angry Birds. But it can be surprisingly simple to learn. You can do it in an hour. But you might want to use a game built by a team here at CU-Boulder. The tutorial is being offered as part of Computer Science Week. In the studio with How On Earth’s Joel Parker to explain the university’s so-called “Hour of Code” is Alex Repenning, a computer science professor at CU.

Hosts: Brian Calvert, Joel Parker
Producer: Brian Calvert
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Beth Bartel

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Carnegie Professor of the Year // Measuring Oil and Gas Air Pollution

Dr. Steven Pollock, Carnegie Professor of the Year in 2013.

Feature 1 – Carnegie Professor of the Year (start time 5:40):  Join the KGNU How On Earth team and CU physicist and Carnegie Teacher of the Year Dr. Steve Pollock to learn about the pain and pleasure of learning physics. Pollock teaches both upper and lower division physics classes, and according to a former student and oceanographer who now teaches at Front Range Community College he is “a huge bundle of energy!” Faculty from four institutions are given the Carnegie Award each year. At CU, Pollock joins physicist and Nobel-prize winner Carl Wieman, who was honored by Carnegie in 2004.

Dr. Chelsea Stephens in Utah.

Feature 2 – Oil and Gas Air Pollution (start time 14:48): CU atmospheric chemist Dr. Chelsea Stephens shares what she’s learning about air pollution near Front Range oil and gas wells. That’s especially timely now that the state is reconsidering its oil and gas air quality regulations.

Hosts: Jim Pullen, Joel Parker
Producer: Jim Pullen
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Beth Bartel
Additional Contributions: Beth Bartel and Brian Calvert


CU Multidisciplinary Oil Production Study

Fracking well in Boulder County, Colorado. Photo courtesy of Jim Pullen.
How can we best live with natural gas development? A University of Colorado team has just been awarded an NSF grant to tackle the problem. Here to chat with us about the study is Dr. Joe Ryan, the lead-PI of the multidisciplinary team. And the lead of the study’s air quality task, Dr. Jana Milford, is also with us.
Hosts: Jim Pullen and Joel Parker
Producer: Jim Pullen
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Jim Pullen