Appalachian Basin

Dr. McKenzie Concedes to Flaws in Colorado Air Study

Following up on my previous post titled “Ohio Learns of the Many Flaws of the Colorado Public Health Study”, I had the chance to sit in on the panel discussion featuring Dr. Lisa McKenzie.  Her presentation gave the crowd the same bad inputs which led to her study being panned by those who have had a chance to review it.  What I found interesting is that she  had some of the same concerns with her study as we do.

The first account in which she conceded is that there are other variables in play when determining emissions levels throughout the study area.  Two main items that especially stuck out are the facts that Interstate 70,  a significant source of emissions, is located within one mile of the air samples that are supposedly representative of emissions from a natural gas well site and that there is no background data to compare emissions level before and after development.

“I-70, a potential source of air emissions, runs right through the map.” – Dr. Lisa McKenzie

I-70 is not a potential source of air emissions, it is a major source of air emissions.  In fact, the EPA classifies benzene as one of many Mobile Source Air Toxics (MSATs), and in its Final Rule to Reduce Mobile Source Air Toxics, the EPA notes that “most of the nation’s benzene emissions come from mobile sources. People who live or work near major roads, or spend a large amount of time in vehicles, are likely to have higher exposures and higher risks. People living in homes with attached garages are also likely to be exposed to benzene levels that are higher than average.”

Again, the fact that the air samples, supposedly representative of natural gas well site emissions, were collected only a mile away from I-70 in a location are higher in a location in such close proximity to a major interstate. To indiscriminately blame those emissions on natural gas development is shortsighted and leans towards an agenda driven study to say the least.

The second point of concession is the fact that the study did not even take into effect background data.  So when they are developing these numbers for emissions, she couldn’t use numbers before development to determine if emissions have increased, decreased, or remained stagnant since development began.

“We didn’t’ have a lot of good background in Colorado to compare it to.  This is a very a rural area and um so there just wasn’t any baseline to compare it to.  But we did compare it well completion samples to the other samples and saw that those were significantly higher concentrations from the other samples” – Dr. Lisa McKenzie

The next input she conceded is that her sample size was extremely limited.  The Colorado team was only able to use 24 samples to determine emissions in the area of the study.  Not to mention most of the data she collected is not representative of the current state of affairs  since Colorado implemented stringent emissions regulations in 2010.  The regulations called for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and methane, to be reduced by as much as 95 percent through the use of low- or no-bleed pneumatic devices.  So not only was there limited data, much of their data was out of date when developing their study.

The last input in which Dr. McKenzie discussed is her findings in regards to cancer risks. In this discussion, Dr. McKenzie even admits the findings are nothing to be alarmed about depending on where you live.

“The cancer risks are cancer risks for both residents further from the wells and closer to the wells were greater than 1 in a million but well below the 1 in 1,000 range.  So they are kind of in this area, this grey area. It depends on the state you are in, it depends on the community, it depends on a lot of things if this is acceptable.” – Lisa McKenzie

The problem, of course, is this “grey area” simply doesn’t exist.  U.S. EPA has established a range of “acceptable” health risk values for carcinogens (cancer) compounds between one in 1,000,000 (1 x 10-06) and one in 10,000 (1 x 10-04) based upon feasible risk reduction strategies.  Even using flawed data gathered within a mile of a major interstate, and no longer representative of the current environment, McKenzie’s study found that the “cancer risk” near well sites is the same as the national average which is 10 in a million.  So when discussing her numbers what she should discuss is that the Colorado study finds the area to be in line with national averages as well as Ohio.  Instead she is attempting to scare people into believing something her own data does not support, that there is a significant increased risk of getting cancer the closer one lives near a well site.

I was not the only one who felt this way.  Paul Koval, Air Toxicologist for the Ohio EPA stated while he was introducing her that he did not share the same viewpoint as Dr. McKenzie.

“My colleagues are going to present, especially Lisa, who are going to be, maybe have a different opinion than me and my coworkers” -Paul Koval

At the end of the day, Dr. McKenzie’s presentation left the audience with more questions than answers.  This was noticeable in the amount of questions that went unanswered.  These are matters admitted to by Dr. McKenzie who also would go on to say the study should not be used when trying to determine health effects in Ohio or in Pennsylvania.

It is nice to know that when you are coming to present in Ohio even Ohio’s regulators don’t agree with your study.

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