Official explains slip-up in drilling, health survey

A survey finding significant concern in Garfield County about possible health effects of proposed natural gas drilling is unscientific, and its results weren’t intended to be made public, the head of the group behind the survey said Wednesday.

Carol Giffin-Jeansonne, executive director of the Western Colorado Area Health Education Center, found herself in the uncomfortable position Wednesday of holding a media teleconference she said she hadn’t expected to conduct regarding the survey.

She said it was never her intention to use the survey for political purposes, despite any perceptions to the contrary.

“This is not about politics. It was a simple effort to get information,” Giffin-Jeansonne said.

She said the center is a nonpolitical nonprofit organization that seeks to improve health care in western Colorado, including through education. It commissioned the survey following the recent release of the draft conclusions of a health-impact assessment regarding proposed drilling by Antero Resources in Battlement Mesa.

Giffin-Jeansonne said the survey’s goal was to determine whether the report raised concerns for county residents. Among other survey findings, more than two-thirds of the roughly 2,300 county residents who responded voiced concern about preliminary findings that the drilling is likely to harm air quality and affect health of nearby residents.

Giffin-Jeansonne said the survey showed enough public concern on key points that she has begun talks with the county about what role her group might play in providing education on the issues at stake.

But she said the Western Colorado Area Health Education Center doesn’t oppose oil and gas development.

And, Giffin-Jeansonne said, she was caught off-guard when another nonprofit organization that provided $12,000 to pay for the survey arranged for a news conference to be held about its findings.

Robin Villa, chief operating officer for the Denver-based Western Conservation Foundation, said she has apologized to Giffin-Jeansonne for mishandling the survey. She said her group as a practice encourages its grantees to go public with what they learn.

“We clearly had a miscommunication on the release strategy,” she said.

Villa described her group as a public charity that provides grants to community groups for public education activities and gets some of its funding from conservation-oriented foundations.

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said it was unfortunate the Western Conservation Foundation “appeared to take advantage of a quality local organization who is trying to do the right thing.”

“I think it’s time to move on and get back to the science of the (health-impact assessment) process and return our focus to working with the HIA team and get away from external entities trying to politicize the HIA process,” he said.


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