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.