Drilling down on air quality concerns
Concerns about the air quality associated wih natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing are not unreasonable. After all, drilling and fracking are essentially industrial activities, often occurring not far from homes or other buildings where people congregate.
That’s why Colorado State University is undertaking a major study — in cooperation with Garfield County and the energy industry — regarding air quality near well sites. The University of Colorado is also doing a large study on drilling impacts.
It’s also why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year established new rules for fracked wells, requiring air pollution control equipment for wells, beginning in 2015.
The latest news about fracking and air quality was a controversial paper released this month by a Paonia-based group called The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, or TEDX.
The paper reports on air sampled near a well pad east of Parachute. The researchers say they found “numerous chemicals in the air, many associated with natural gas operations.”
But groups associated with the energy industry have challenged the paper’s findings.
Energy in Depth, an energy-funded public education and outreach group, noted that even the TEDX paper noted the chemicals discovered in the air were at concentrations below what is considered hazardous, according to federal regulations.
EID also said the chemicals couldn’t be clearly linked to drilling operations. They might have come from vehicles on nearby Interstate 70, said EID Research Director Simon Lomax.
David Ludlam of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association questioned the timing of the TEDX report. It comes just as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is to hold hearings on proposed setback requirements for drill rigs near homes, schools and other buildings.
Furthermore, Ludlam said, his group has sent a certified letter and called TEDX, asking to see the data it used to compile the report, but as of Wednesday had received no reply.
We don’t know the details of the TEDX paper. But, as with claims that fracking was contaminating drinking water supplies — claims that so far have not been proved — it’s important to conduct independent, careful scientific studies of fracking and air quality. That’s exactly what the CSU and CU studies are attempting to do. If they discover problems related to air quality, there are ways to alleviate them, perhaps along the lines of the new EPA rules.
Meanwhile, various reports say fracking technology could be a primary driver in the largest energy boom in this country’s recent history. It is helping lead ultimately toward U.S. energy independence and to a significant reduction in this nation’s reliance on much dirtier forms of energy.
That’s something we should be celebrating.