Mountain States

Colorado’s Top Medical Officer: No Evidence of “Public Health Impact as a Result of the Current Setbacks”

Colorado’s top medical officer has even further discredited claims from anti-fracking activists about public health. As the Colorado Independent reports, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) executive director and chief medical officer Dr. Larry Wolk says there is no evidence that current setbacks would have a negative public health effect. As he put it:

“I think people often invoke public health or health concerns when we don’t necessarily have evidence that there is a valid health issue. There are certainly other issues that are valid as to why people don’t want these things near them: They don’t like the noise, they don’t like the smell, they don’t like the traffic, they don’t like the appearance. I’m not invalidating those, at all — I certainly wouldn’t like to live in a neighborhood near those, either — but I can’t, in my role, allow that to be a substitute for saying that this is bad for public health. We don’t have any demonstrative evidence that increasing the setbacks from oil and gas development would be any more protective of the public’s health than where the current setbacks are, because we don’t have any evidence that there is a public health impact as a result of the current setbacks.” (Emphasis added)

The new interview expands on a recent Greeley Tribune report quoting Dr. Wolk as saying that when it comes to oil and natural gas development impacting public health, “we don’t see anything to be concerned with.” Dr. Wolk again mentioned CDPHE data showing that areas where a majority of fracking is taking place are not registering higher levels of negative health conditions, and in some instances lower than those reported where little or no fracking occurs. As the Colorado Independent reports:

“What the data shows is that from a registry standpoint — we maintain registries based on a number of health conditions, whether it’s cancer, birth defects, etc.— that the rates of these different health concerns or issues in some of these oil and gas-rich communities were no different from those that were not in oil and gas-rich communities.” (Emphasis added)

Dr. Wolk also points out that CDPHE data show that pollution in the region is down, while cases of asthma remain flat and instances of lung cancer have declined over the last 10 years. This happened during a rapid acceleration in oil and natural gas production along Colorado’s Front Range. Also from the Colorado Independent:

“Asthma has been flat and high for quite a while, although, because we have a state where people are coming and going a lot, it’s hard to look statewide. You can look at our website and see what that sort of prevalence has done in terms of trends. From a pollution standpoint, we have been relatively stable, and have actually seen some improvements in some types of pollution. Particulate matter is way down — we don’t have the brown cloud like we used to — and ozone we’ve been able to regulate to a level that certainly isn’t getting any worse, and, in some respects, is actually getting a little better. Based on the data on our website, you can’t tie the emissions to the diseases, but you can certainly look at the disease incidents themselves.”


“Lung cancer, for example, statewide was 55 incidents per 100,000 people in 2004, and now it’s hovering somewhere around 40 per 100,000. So we’ve seen at least a decrease in age-adjusted incidences of lung cancer in the last 10 years.”

As EID has pointed out before, Dr. Wolk, a practicing physician once voted Colorado’s Pediatrician of the Year, has a history of speaking out about misleading activist-claims on public health and oil and natural gas development. And while his statements have drawn the ire of activist groups, as Dr. Wolk points out in the interview, his goal is for CDPHE to provide “unbiased and evidence-based” information. As the Colorado Independent reports:

“I would like to think that the CDPHE is one organization that can really try to stay unbiased and evidence-based and objective when it comes to putting forth truthful information. It’s not that either of those two sides would put forth untruthful information, but you can use data sometimes to make your point on one side or the other. So you have to be able to rely on somebody to be objective when it comes to balancing the playing field there.”

Dr. Wolk’s follow-up interview with the Colorado Independent confirm that the misleading health claims from national activist groups simply do not stand up to scrutiny from  public health officials. And with activist groups still pushing public health claims as a top issue in their campaign to ban fracking, along with the jobs, economic and environmental benefits that go along with it, this is likely not the last we will hear from Dr. Wolk and his team.


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