Mountain States

CSU Finds Low Emissions Levels along Colorado’s Front Range

Colorado State University (CSU) Professor Jeffrey Collett presented new data to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) this week that his team collected over several years along the state’s Front Range measuring emissions from oil and natural gas development.

While the study is yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, the data that he presented showed very low methane emissions and benzene emissions on Colorado’s Front Range. The data come as the second phase of an ongoing project that started on the state’s Western Slope.

#1. Methane emissions below 1 percent of production

Collett’s team looked at emissions associated with several stages of the oil and natural gas development process and as the Denver Business Journal reports: “The lowest emissions are associated with fracking and the highest were during the liquid load out.”  However, it is also clear from Collett’s presentation that methane emissions levels are low during all stages of development. From Collett’s presentation to the commission:

“Nearly all methane emission rates observed from production sites were below 1% of methane produced, with a mean < 0.4%.”

Scientists have long noted that methane emissions need to be below 3.2 percent of production in order for natural gas to maintain its climate benefits. The measurements CSU observed on the Front Range are well below that.

#2: Benzene levels near well sites are lower than background levels

When it comes to benzene, activist groups frequently use dubious scientific measurements to exaggerate exposure levels. But Collett’s Front Range research found similar levels to what he observed during his data collection on the Western Slope, which he said was not “particularly alarming.

Collett’s team found that “background,” or levels of benzene already present in the air at study sites “are expected to be much smaller” than concentrations he projected exist at a well site. From the data associated with study:

“The seasonal mean concentrations are somewhat evenly distributed radially surrounding the well pad. The median background concentration of benzene measured at all sites for this study was 0.14 ppbv. Based on the results from the AERMOD simulation shown here, contributions of benzene emitted from a production site are expected to be much smaller than background concentrations except for very close to the facility.”

When asked during his presentation about benzene concentrations, Collett went into more detail on how the presence of background concentrations of benzene are actually higher in “urban areas” where no fracking is taking place, saying:

“There are of course a lot of other ambient measurements of benzene concentrations that the division does and we have done a number of recently, for example the City of Fort Collins has been interested in looking at whether current concentrations of things like benzene before maybe expansion occurs of oil and gas activity and those concentrations, especially as you get into urban areas tend to be above the backgrounds we are seeing out at these sites we are studying” (:32-1:03)

#3: Lower emissions found on Front Range reaffirm Collett’s previous conclusion of no “urgent health, safety, or welfare concern”

Throughout his presentation, Collett compared emissions data he collected on the Western Slope to what he found along the Front Range, oftentimes showing equal or even lower emissions along the Front Range. The comparison draws attention back to Collett’s previous conclusion to Garfield County Commissioners, that his data for the Western Slope do not show a threat to public health or the environment.

As the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported on that previous Western Slope data:

“Collett said none of the emissions findings were particularly alarming. Researchers were required to notify the county immediately if they found anything that posed an imminent health risk, and that never was necessary. Collett said standards for benzene are primarily occupation-based, and a variety of benzene standards exist and would have been applicable in terms of measuring any immediate health risk, including to the research team.

We didn’t see concentrations near those standards,” he said. (emphasis added)

On that note, the Greeley Tribune recently reported that Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) executive director and chief medical officer Dr. Larry Wolk shares that sentiment, saying that when it comes to oil and natural gas development impacting public health, “we don’t see anything to be concerned with.” From the Greeley Tribune:

“I’m not going to tell anybody to go drink a pint of liquid petroleum or stand over an active well site and wave the fumes in to breath them in,” Wolk said. “Nobody would argue that this stuff isn’t toxic, but it’s all about exposure to toxins, and we don’t see anything to be concerned with at this point in time.” (Emphasis added)

While there is still more to come from Follett and his team, his initial data throws more cold water on claims from activist groups who frequently point to emissions as a top issue in their campaign to ban fracking, along with the jobs, economic and environmental benefits that go along with it.

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