Garfield County to help pay for study of drilling pollutants

Garfield County commissioners on Monday indicated their intention to commit possibly $1 million to a landmark study to better determine air pollutant levels near oil and gas operations.

The county is planning to help fund a $1.8 million study led by Colorado State University to better characterize how emissions disperse within a few kilometers of well drilling, hydraulic fracturing and flowback operations in the county.

Jeff Collett, chairman of the CSU Atmospheric Sciences Department, said researchers hope to launch the study this fall. Results wouldn’t be released until its completion in 2015.

Representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Land Management, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and from industry and elsewhere are serving as advisers for the research. Energy companies have committed $800,000 toward it.

Collett said the state supports the study but has said it has no funding to commit to it, and while the EPA has said it is interested in providing financial support at some point, he doesn’t want to wait on that to get started.

Garfield Commissioner Mike Samson said the state and federal government should be involved financially because of the study’s significance.

“We’re making history here, gentleman. We’re doing something that’s never been done before. The whole nation, if not the world, is going to want to know what comes of this,” he said.

He said commissioners “definitely” will help fund the study.

“We want it. The citizens want it,” he said.

Some in the industry had criticized the preliminary findings of a previous drilling-related health impact study, which county commissioners terminated in its draft form.

Collett said the industry involvement in the new study will be helpful because of the detailed information it will be able to provide to help researchers.

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky noted that Garfield County has $1 million available in its oil and gas mitigation fund.

Jankovsky said the new study is designed to fill a specific air-quality information gap remaining after the health impact study. Collett said findings would be released on an emergency basis if high emission levels warrant it, and pollutant concentrations determined by the study also could be compared to air quality guidelines.

Dorothea Farris, with the Thompson Divide Coalition, which is working to stop oil and gas development west of Carbondale, told commissioners Monday she’s “more than pleased” with the planned study.

“One of our priorities is air quality studies,” she said.

Dave Devanney, of the group Battlement Concerned Citizens, said in an e-mail that the county “seems to have lost interest in health impacts,” noting that the new study won’t look at the health risks of emissions.


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