Health officials, drillers seek deal on air study

State and Garfield County health officials, the oil and gas industry, and Colorado State University are seeking to reach agreement to proceed on what a CSU professor says would be important research into air pollutants resulting from drilling and production activities.

The study tentatively is planned to look at questions such as what pollutants are emitted around well pads and how those pollutants disperse.

The study would focus on Garfield County.

“But I view this as a longer-term issue that the country is dealing with already in several areas, and it’s certainly likely to increase,” said Jeffrey Collett, a professor in CSU’s Atmospheric Science Department who is being considered to lead the research.

“I think it’s an important issue and it’s interesting to us from an air quality point of view, as well as for the air toxic concerns that folks have,” Collett said.

The study planning comes amid complaints in Garfield County and elsewhere that people are becoming sick due to proximity to oil and gas operations.

Study talks remain at a preliminary stage. And as with previous efforts to do health-related research into drilling in the county, the question of bias is being raised, in this case because of the possibility of industry helping fund it.

“I think that you know, the golden rule applies, that whoever’s putting out the gold is going to make the rules,” said Dave Devanney of Battlement Concerned Citizens, a group that formed over concerns about Antero Resources’ plans to drill 200 wells in Battlement Mesa.

Garfield County commissioners halted a health impact assessment connected to the Antero plans before its completion, amid concern that it was dragging on, and industry criticism of its preliminary findings.

The county then decided to work with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in seeking a federal grant to evaluate short-term risk of emissions from well pads — an area where there currently is a lack of good data, according to the industry and county health staff. But the state ultimately opted against pursuing the grant following concerns about its parameters, and industry misgivings about involvement by the Colorado School of Public Health, which had led the health impact assessment.

The goal of the study now being planned is to produce peer-reviewed research worthy of publication in a scientific journal. Involved parties hope that should provide assurance that it wouldn’t be biased by industry funding.

“If that in and of itself doesn’t project objectivity, then I don’t know what would,” said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association.

Jim Rada, Garfield County’s environmental health manager, said he hopes to further address bias concerns by involving Battlement Mesa residents in the study’s planning.

Devanney said he “would certainly prefer to see the air quality looked at by public health people rather than engineers and scientists.” But Ludlam said doctors and public health practitioners such as those in the School of Public Health are less qualified to characterize emission levels than to analyze health implications of emissions data once it can be gathered.


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