Garfield’s interest in health study praised

The head of a national initiative promoting use of health impact assessments in public policy decisions is praising Garfield County’s apparent readiness to help fund such a study in a community where up to 200 natural gas wells may be drilled.

“We think this is the sort of work that counties should be doing,” said Dr. Aaron Wernham, a physician who is director of the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Antero Resources is planning to drill the wells from 10 pads in Battlement Mesa, an unincorporated community of about 5,000 residents. Some 400 residents have signed a petition asking the county and state for a health assessment study. It could include measures such as baseline air and water quality testing prior to drilling, and ongoing medical monitoring aimed at detecting possible impacts from gas development.

County commissioners have not taken formal action, but indicated their willingness to spend money from the county’s energy-mitigation fund to help pay for a study. The fund is generated from sources such as severances taxes and federal mineral leasing.

Wernham said he would encourage Garfield County officials to pursue a grant from his program.

County officials are worried about the need to act before Antero brings forward a formal drilling proposal. Wernham said the Health Impact Project tries to issue grants quickly, but never discourages use of local funds, which he said is ultimately the best way for such studies to be carried out.

Garfield County’s environmental health manager, Jim Rada, offered a rough estimate that a study could cost anywhere from $100,000 on the low end to millions of dollars if it involves ongoing medical monitoring.

Wernham said he never has heard of a study costing millions, but agreed the ultimate cost depends on what a study includes.


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