Mountain States

Commerce City ‘Study Session’ Offers Latest Evidence that Colo. Fracking Opponents Need to Hit the Books

Commerce City hosted a “study session” on Monday in which drilling opponents attempted to use long-debunked anti-fracking rhetoric to discredit hard scientific data from Colorado’s top medical and environmental regulators demonstrating oil and gas development is protective of public health.

Featuring representatives from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), Colorado Petroleum Council and various members of Colorado’s anti-fracking community, the meeting was designed educate Commerce City residents about planned drilling in the community.

Suffice it to say, it was clear by the end of the 2 ½ hour event – which was capped by a CDPHE presentation that thoroughly debunked many of the claims made earlier in the evening – that the drilling opponents in attendance should have hit the books before this study session.

The evening’s signature moment came after a presentation from industry representatives that highlighted several reports confirming development is protective of public health — most notably citing a recent Energy In Depth report based on CDPHE research. As an industry representative from COGA noted,

“… it uses all CDPHE data. I think that’s the key point. It’s analyzing data that was done by the state agency.”

In response, skeptical councilman Steve Douglas suggested that the infamous “flaming faucet” scene from the documentary “Gasland” provides evidence that fracking poses an inherent threat to groundwater and public health in Colorado.

“You said there hasn’t been any impact from drilling into groundwater and there have been several instances in Weld county that have leaked into wells, where folks turn on their water, and because of methane exposed into the water, they can light their water on fire. I think it started way back in 2008, [200]9… with the Gasland that went around the country.”

Douglas went on to insist that, “This is from drilling, it’s not just natural methane that’s in the ground… this is actually from drilling that caused the leak into drinking water.”

But as EID highlights on our Gasland Debunked page, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commissions (COGCC) has made it crystal clear that the “flaming faucet” Douglas made the focal point of his counter argument had nothing to do with oil and gas development. Instead, the COGCC has determined this instance is attributable to naturally occurring methane seepage. Furthermore, no fewer than two dozen scientific studies have concluded fracking does not pose a major threat to groundwater. Most notably, a landmark 2016 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study concluded that,

“[H]ydraulic fracturing operations are unlikely to generate sufficient pressure to drive fluids into shallow drinking water zones.”

The EPA reached this conclusion even after expanding the definition of fracking to include a wide range of other oilfield activities, demonstrating the safety of the entire development process. Case in point: methane migration resulting from faulty well construction – which Douglas inaccurately insisted Gasland proves is a widespread issue – is actually very rare.

But, unfortunately, Douglas’ Gasland reference set the tone for a meeting that was long on misinformation and short on facts for much of the night.

Most notably, Douglas used a media report regarding residents near oil and gas development having blood tests conducted to detect levels of volatile organic compounds in their blood as the basis to support his claim that health indicators in Colorado communities near oil and gas development have gotten worse,

“… up in Broomfield and Erie, people have a significant amount of benzene being shown in the blood,” Douglas said.

But Douglas’ claims have been thoroughly debunked on two levels by the CDPHE. The CDPHE has emphasized on two occasions in the past three months that the agency does not endorse the use of VOC blood tests as a means to verify alleged health impacts attributable to oil and gas development, due primarily to the fact that such tests are  extremely unreliable due to numerous limitations and cannot determine the source of VOCs detected.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel also reported Monday that CDPHE oil and gas liaison Sean Hackett stated during a recent Garfield County Energy Advisory Board meeting that, “Air monitoring around those oil and gas sites really is the best approach.” And the CDPHE has on several occasions conducted air monitoring near oil and gas development in Colorado and concluded that emissions are protective of public health.

In fact, a 2017 CDPHE report examined 10,000 air samples in proximate areas to “substantial” oil and natural gas operations, finding “safe” levels of emissions and concluding, “the risk of harmful health effects is low for resident living [near] (sic) oil and gas operations,” and that “results…do not indicate the need for immediate public health action.”

In sharp contrast to CDPHE’s real-world data based on actual air measurements, “Be The Change” activists Wes Wilson and Phil Doe – whose misinformation has been previously exposed by EID – attempted to convince the council that Earthworks-led FLIR video footage and research from go-to activist researcher Lisa McKenzie provide evidence of harmful emissions from oil and gas development.

EID has highlighted the fact that an Earthworks operative Hilary Lewis admitted that FLIR videos offer no actual scientific data, as she acknowledged,

“It is the regulator’s job to do air testing to make sure that these sites are in compliance with state and national rules. Unfortunately, neither EarthWorks nor CORE has the resources to do air testing at all the oil and gas sites we visit.”

To Lewis’ point, the CDPHE is the regulator in this instance. And it has done its job and determined that Colorado oil and gas development sites are in compliance, doing so by conducting air measurements showing emissions are protective of public health — just as Earthworks’ own representative admits is appropriate. As for Earthworks’ true objective, the following recent tweet says all that needs to be said.

Regarding Wilson’s reference to a recent McKenzie study linking close proximity to oil and gas development to increased cancer risk, Hackett reiterated the fact that CDPHE has noted that an honest evaluation of the study actually confirms that oil and gas development is protective of public health at the current setback distances.

“One thing [the McKenzie] study does is confirm the 2017 [CDPHE report] findings of a low risk of cancer and non-cancer health effects at distances of 500 feet or greater. It only found increased risk of cancer at distances closer than 500 feet and it underscored the importance of establishing setbacks.”

As EID has stated many times before, the debate over oil and gas development and public health is an important one that has particular relevance in Colorado. That said, it should be driven by the science and the most reputable experts. The CDPHE certainly fits the latter description, while the likes of Earthworks, Gasland director Josh Fox and a researcher that has repeatedly been criticized by that regulatory agency certainly does not.



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