Agency finds fault with citizen testing of air pollution near oil, gas drilling
A state agency is casting doubts on recent community-based air testing that reportedly found toxic chemicals near natural gas drilling in Colorado and New Mexico, including hydrogen sulfide at a Garfield County home.
“There are some serious technical deficiencies in the study,” the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Pollution Control Division said.
The study was led by the nonprofit group Global Community Monitor, which trains volunteers to collect samples analyzed by certified labs.
In the Garfield County case, a sample taken in January at the Silt Mesa home of Bill and Beth Strudley reportedly contained hydrogen sulfide at a level about 185 times above the long-term exposure level considered safe. The state notes a second sample taken on a consecutive day found none of the gas, and the Piceance Basin isn’t known for having much hydrogen sulfide in the natural gas produced there.
It said the hydrogen sulfide could have come from other sources, pointing out it can result from things such as sewage treatment and animal operations.
Hydrogen sulfide can be lethal at high levels and can cause headaches and other maladies at lower concentrations.
It smells like rotten eggs, an odor the Strudleys said they noticed when they experienced headaches, rashes and other symptoms after Antero Resources began drilling near their home. The Strudleys since have left their home and sued Antero.
The state also is questioning the study for drawing conclusions about possible long-term exposure based on one-time samples and using collections bags that “have issues” that can affect test results.
Denny Larson, executive director of Global Community Monitor, said the bags are an acceptable and inexpensive means to screen for possible air-quality problems. He said ongoing citizen reports of air-quality problems justify suggesting some of the pollution exposures are long-term.
Instead of criticizing its study, the state “should get out there when the community is complaining about this, take some samples and investigate,” he said.
Frank Smith of the Western Colorado Congress citizens group said he occasionally hears from industry workers who say hydrogen sulfide is being detected during drilling between Battlement Mesa and Collbran.
David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said where hydrogen sulfide is found in Piceance Basin gas, it’s usually introduced from the surface rather than being naturally occurring, and it is treated using biocides.
Said Smith, “We’ve got to be careful with this stuff even if it is introduced.”
Ludlam said he’s glad the state is weighing in on the recent study “to give it some rational context.”