Debate begins over new fracking study
A Colorado study suggesting air pollution from hydraulic fracturing and other oil and gas operations endangers nearby residents drew fire from a national pro-fracking organization that says its methodology is faulty.
But while Energy In Depth criticized the study, based on air sampling near well pads in Garfield County, a resident in drilling country south of Silt said it confirms the kind of health impacts she has been coping with for a long time.
“It’s about time,” said Dee Hoffmeister. “You get a little tired of complaining and telling about it, and nobody listens.”
The soon-to-be-published study by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Denver found both non-cancer and cancer risks increase for residents living within a half-mile of wells.
Energy In Depth, a campaign by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, on Tuesday issued study criticisms that included:
■ The cancer risk identified for residents near wells is no greater than the risk for Americans as a whole.
■ Air samples were taken near well pads about a mile from Interstate 70, and exposures to benzene, a carcinogen of concern in the report, are known to increase near major roadways because benzene also is emitted from vehicles.
■ At least some of the samples were taken before the 2009 implementation of new Colorado oil and gas rules, which include a requirement to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds by as much as 95 percent.
The study’s lead author, Lisa McKenzie, couldn’t be reached Tuesday for comment about the criticisms.
The study says the greatest health risk it identified involves exposures to pollutants during hydraulic fracturing and other well-completion activities. These pollutants can cause effects such as eye irritation, headaches, sore throats and difficulty breathing, it says.
Hoffmeister said she has experienced dizziness and breathing problems and even passed out due to fumes from oil and gas development.
“It wasn’t just me. It was a lot of other people around our area that were having the same effects, and (other victims) are all over the country. They’re all over the world,” she said.
The new study makes use of data from previous research the School of Public Health did for Garfield County, but the new work wasn’t sanctioned by the county, said Jim Rada, the county’s environmental health manager.
He said the new study makes clear it makes assumptions and there are limitations to its conclusions, “so you’ve got to be careful in how you interpret it.”
Rada and David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said the new study restates what the study for the county found.
Garfield commissioners cut that study short, and Ludlam said one reason was because state public health officials criticized the study and supporting data now being used again in the new study.