Study on drilling effects questionable

Efforts to design a long-term environmental and health monitoring study for Battlement Mesa residents facing natural gas development are under way, despite questions about whether the experts doing the work are anti-industry.

The Colorado School of Public Health contracted with Garfield County to design the study. That’s the same entity that studied the anticipated health impacts of plans by Antero Resources to drill up to 200 wells in the residential community.

In early May, county commissioners ended that study while it was still in a revised draft stage out of concerns that it was dragging on and growing into more than originally intended.

That study, intended to help the county impose rules to minimize effects, concluded Battlement Mesa residents would likely be affected by air pollution and other gas development impacts. The industry contended the study had become politicized and was being used by anti-drilling activists for larger purposes.

Meanwhile, the School of Public Health continues to be under contract for designing monitors of residents’ health after drilling begins, and air, water and soil impacts.

County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky voiced concern Monday about how the school will work with oil and gas companies on that project after having “lost a lot of footing with the industry” on the health impact study.

The county and school had to drop one element of the project Monday, after first Antero and then several other companies declined to participate in a pilot study of air pollution.

Project representative Dr. Roxana Witter told Jankovsky she doesn’t believe the school or the study is biased. “We did what we are supposed to do, which was to give the public health point of view,” she said.

She said she thinks the school can work with the industry.

“I don’t anticipate that we will be shut out entirely,” she said.

In an interview, David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said that given how the health impact study process was politicized, the school’s “participation moving forward is always going to be a complicating factor.”

The school also is a participant in a county effort to obtain a federal grant to study the degree to which air impacts from well pads may affect health. But Ludlam said the industry takes comfort from the fact that county and state public health officials also would be involved in that study.


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