Governor, think of the beer!

What harm would fracking do to that precious commodity -- beer? Flickr: Mezzoblue
What harm would fracking do to that precious commodity — beer? Flickr: Mezzoblue
Who isn’t familiar with Coors advertising displaying snowy mountain peaks and touting the purity of  Rocky Mountain water (despite the fact that the massive Coors plant in Golden killed thousands fish in a 2000 spill)? Beer is rightly a point of pride for Coloradans. Avery,Great Divide, New Belgium, and a host of smaller Colorado breweries have been at the forefront of a craft beer renaissance, offering beer fanciers a remarkable diversity and quality of lagers, ales, and other brews. Our geologist-turned brewer- turned- governor, John Hickenlooper, deserves tremendous credit for helping spur the growth of craft brewing, and the revitalization of downtown Denver, through his founding of the Wynkoop Brewing Co. I’m partial to their ESB.

Pure Rocky Mountain Spring Water?

The governor, however, has not always been as strong an advocate for Colorado’s surface and ground waters as he has been for quality beer. Perhaps the most prominent example is his oft-debunked claim to drinking “frack fluid.” “Frack fluid” refers to the host of chemical cocktails injected  at high pressure into hydrocarbon-bearing geological formations, along with sand and water, to release the oil and gas fueling our latest drilling boom. Yet the brew the governor sampled is an expensive, experimental plant-based variety not actually in commercial use in the state. Real frack fluid contains a soup of chemicals toxic to humans and wildlife. I think this episode displays an unfounded assurance that fracking, and oil and gas development, is risk-free, and that the oil and gas industry can and will self-regulate to ensure that our state’s waters don’t suffer contamination from the rush to extract natural gas.

Germany’s Fracking Brew-Ha-Ha

I couldn’t help but wonder, then, whether the governor might not be persuaded otherwise at last by a new controversy “brewing” in, of all places, Germany. According to an article in Der Spiegel, German breweries have complained that hydraulic fracturing threatens to contaminate drinking water and violate “the beer purity law, or Reinheitsgebot, of 1516.” I was disappointed when research revealed that Colorado has no beer purity law of 1516. The German rule mandates that “German beer still may only be made from malt, hops, yeast and water.” Presumably, carcinogenic frack fluid constituents like benzene and 1,2-Dichloroethane don’t meet that definition.

Trucks line up at a fracking site in western Colorado. Photo by Judith Kohler
Many of us in Colorado have been disappointed by the governor’s apparently unquestioning embrace of oil and gas drilling, a stance that has manifested itself in litigation challenging municipal efforts to regulate the practice and in the administration’s undoing of modest proposed legislative reforms to the state’s badly outdated fine structure for violation of health, safety, and environmental regulations. Do we really want to risk being known for frack fluid cocktails and benzene spills rather than for clear streams and innovative IPAs? Perhaps the German brewers’ outrage might remind our governor that if there’s one thing about which Coloradans care deeply – it’s beer.