Drilling health effects debated at forum

PARACHUTE — A doctor involved in testing that has found high levels of toxins in people living near oil and gas development suggested Wednesday that the best solution for affected residents is to sell their homes and leave the area.

“If I had a choice I would move,” Dr. John Hughes, a Roaring Fork Valley osteopath, said at a forum presented by the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and Battlement Concerned Citizens.

But some questioned the conclusions of his findings, and an industry representative took issue with the nature of some of Hughes’ comments. Hughes’ remarks included calling Gov. John Hickenlooper “Frackenlooper,” saying he was put in office by Encana, contending the industry was lying to the public, and calling for its ads to include information on health maladies he believes oil and gas development causes for nearby residents.

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, told Hughes, “The assumptions you make about our motivations are not accurate.”

He said some of Hughes’ comments were disparaging and insulting, and added, “I think it’s distracting to the overall constructive conversation that we need to have.”

Hughes participated in research that he says found elevated levels of ethylbenzene in blood samples of 10 out of 11 people who participated in testing in Erie, an area with considerable oil and gas development. And this spring, he helped arrange testing of Silt residents Peggy Tibbetts, her daughter and granddaughter. It found ethylbenzene and another volatile organic compound in the urine of all three. Hughes said it sounds as if the positive tests had to do with gas development near Silt.

Lisa McKenzie, a Colorado School of Public Health research associate who also spoke at Wednesday’s forum, said she couldn’t attribute the findings in the Tibbetts family to gas wells without a study being done.

“I would say there could be an association, but these same VOCs could come from other sources,” she said.

Some residents at Wednesday’s forum said depressed housing prices in the area would make it hard for them to move as Hughes suggested.

Battlement Mesa resident Sally Bedford, who questioned the validity of some of Hughes’ conclusions from the VOC testing, said after Wednesday’s forum that people seem to line up on one end or the other of a continuum when it comes to issues involving oil and gas development.

“Let’s meet in the middle of this whole continuum, right in the middle where nobody is,” she said.


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Interesting meeting in Parachute last evening. Dr. John Hughes presented a talk about his blood testing program showing hydrocarbon marker levels. He tested in Erie, Colorado (Weld ,County) and our Carbondale and Silt (Garfield , County). The usual discussion of sources of hydrocarbon emerged as the hydrocarbons do have several sources.

What one thing was lacking was a description of those sources and how do they compare in contribution. This is information not commonly available and is left to suppositions and a tendency, by speakers of different views, to point to a single source or to deflect from a source toward another.

Let us clarify some of this by compiled numbers from Colorado Department of Health and Environment 2011 Inventory of Volatile Organic Compounds data spreadsheets, the hydrocarbons in question.

So let us look at these sources:
Biogenic (more correctly referred as BVOC).

“Biogenic volatile organic compounds produced by plants are involved in plant growth, development, reproduction and defence. They also function as communication media within plant communities, between plants and between plants and insects. Because of the high chemical reactivity of many of these compounds, coupled with their large mass emission rates from vegetation into the atmosphere, they have significant effects on the chemical composition and physical characteristics of the atmosphere. Hence, biogenic volatile organic compounds mediate the relationship between the biosphere and the atmosphere. Alteration of this relationship by anthropogenically driven changes to the environment, including global climate change, may perturb these interactions and may lead to adverse and hard-to-predict consequences for the Earth system.”

However, the acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, methanol, acetone, formic acid, acetic acid, ethanol, and ethylene are about 25% of the concentrations with the other being isoprene, monoterpene being 50% and 25% respectively. The isoprene lasts 0.2 of a day and the monoterpene lasts 0.1- to 0.2 of a day, the acetaldehyde and formaldehyde last <1 day, and others last >1 day. The bulk emissions are seasonal in intensity and would have some correspondence to the allergen seasons as well.

Besides Biogenic there are:
Agriculture, Aircraft, Commercial cooking, Construction, Forest and prescribed fire, Fuel combustion, Highway vehicles, Non-road, O&G Area, O&O Point, O&G Condensate tanks, Pesticide application, Portable fuel containers, Railroads, Road Dust, Structure fires, Surface coating Tank trucks in transit,  and Wood burning emissions recorded.
For Garfield County these all, including Biogenic, total: 66,643.2 tons/year
  O&G sources of area, point, and condensate tanks = 35,738.4 tons/year or 53.6%
  The next highest source of the list is Biogenic = 27,966 tons/year or 42%
  Followed by Highway vehicles = 1,075.9 tons/year or 1.6%
  All others combined represent 1,862.9 tons/year or 2.7%

For Weld County these all, including Biogenic, total: 136,010.2 tons/year
  O&G sources of area, point, and condensate tanks = 106,361.1 tons/year or 78.2%
  The next highest source of the list is Biogenic = 19,927 tons/year or 14.6%
  Followed by Highway vehicles = 3,100 tons/year or 2.3%
  All others combined represent 6,622.1 tons/year or 4.9%

Now lets us look at a list of the O&G Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP) of the VOCs:

Tons per Year - (with like VOCs to BVOCs listings)

Source: Air Pollution Control Division spread sheet “2011pointHAPS” (2 Tabs)
HAP     O&G totals   Other totals   O&G % of all State Amts.
acetaldehyde,    202.32   63.07     76.2%
acrolein   145.63   3.05     97.9%
benzene         680.21   87.52     88.6%
ethylbenzene   47.17   26.35     64.1%
formaldehyde   1096.82   235.49     82.3%
hexane         180.78   63.77     73.9%
toluene         953.51   293.77     76.4%
xylene         729.63   244.32     74.9%
methanol   810.81   73.15     91.7%


We quickly see the list of HAPs includes many more hydrocarbons than the Biogenic sources and is in much greater quantities than all Other sources including Biogenic and Highway traffics.

That would leave us with the question, why would the Silt part of Garfield County have like testing of human blood to Erie patients and not Carbondale patients?  Perhaps the answer lies in the proximity of sources and topographical terrain. Erie and Silt are surrounded by O&G production with an exception to the North of Silt, but that North area is bound by the natural barrier of the Grand Hogback. Carbondale, on the other hand, is shielded from production sites by that barrier. Air flows are raised up over 2,000 feet in elevation and distance from existing sources is extended. An interesting note is that the mix of VOCs and NOXs formed ozone at the higher elevations of Sunlight, Spring Valley and Aspen Mountain in the spring months of snow still being on the ground vs. usual summer months and definitely showed a presence of VOCs at higher elevations above the Carbondale area. This was also reflected in lesser ozone at Aspen than up on Aspen Mountain. This shielding of Carbondale would be reduced by increased Thompson-Divide activity as sources would be moved closer to the area and would have a new ground level origin and density as opposed to any buoyancy and dilution added by distance.

Therefore, if the greatest contributor to the doubling of VOC amounts and adding to the hazardous mix, is addressed as the problem of VOC source ailments, then O&G is the source that must be corrected; and, has the most approaches available, as it is a result of operational methods, practices and equipment.

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