What Denver7 Didn’t Tell You Last Night
Yesterday’s Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) hearing had the usual ban-fracking suspects present at public comment period – but there was a newcomer who just happened to catch the attention of a Denver7 news reporter, who just happened to be on hand for this run-of-the-mill monthly COGCC meeting.
Elizabeth Ewaskowitz, of Erie, Colo., gave public comment at COGCC’s hearing – and shortly after – retreated to the hall where she gave a well-prepared interview with Denver7 about blood tests she had performed on her 6-year-old son that showed elevated levels of certain substances. Ewaskowitz told the Denver7 reporter that the only explanation for the levels found in the blood test was the presence of wells in the area.
Public health issues have been a key point of emphasis for our EID team and we pay these concerns much credence. In fact, earlier this year, EID released a comprehensive report that took a deep dive into the data and findings by Colorado’s own Department of Health and Environment and detailed key health indicators in the state over a time of oil and gas development expansion. According to Colorado’s own top health experts and regulators, their analysis has found “no substantial or moderate evidence for any health effects,” related to oil and gas activity.
So, when a Colorado resident comes forward with data that appears to contradict these findings, we take them seriously. After attending the COGCC hearing and getting a taste of the Denver7 interview, we got to work taking a look at some of the relevant information being put forward. What we gathered might raise at least some suspicion about what Denver7 reported last night.
What Our EID Report Found
As mentioned above, EID released a health report earlier this year that reviewed a sizable amount of data and information to determine what impacts, if any, oil and gas development had on the State of Colorado.
First, the report took a look at health indicators and “death rates” from chronic illnesses in Weld County—home to 90 percent of Colorado’s oil production. From 2002-2015—a time period where oil and natural gas production increased by 12 times and three times respectively, and well counts more than doubled—the county saw decreases in death rates of Cancer (-1.9 percent), respiratory illness (-9.1 percent), and heart disease (-21.4 percent).
The report also detailed findings of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s own assessment of existing research. CDPHE scientists reviewed 12 relevant epidemiological studies covering 27 different health effects in communities near oil and gas operations and found “no substantial or moderate evidence for any health effects.” In addition, CDPHE ranked the majority of recent studies purporting to find a link between oil and natural gas activity and adverse health effects as “low quality, primarily due to limitations of the study designs that make it difficult to establish clear links between exposures to substances emitted directly from oil and gas and the outcomes evaluated.”
CDPHE also analyzed more than 10,000 air samples in the state with “substantial” oil and natural gas operations and found that air emission levels were “safe,” even for sensitive populations.
State Regulators Are Already Actively Engaged
Ewaskowitz told Denver7 she filed formal complaints with COGCC and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE). She said of her experience in reaching out to the state regulatory bodies:
“I think I was surprised at how quickly they followed up, so I have been in communication with several of them.”
We at EID aren’t surprised of the quick response from state regulators given that CDPHE Oil and Gas Health Information and Response (OGHIR) Program was setup to field these types of complaints and investigate – often sending CDPHE staff into the field to conduct further testing. As EID’s recent health report notes of this program most recent compilation of findings from FY2016-17:
“the report tracked health concerns reported by Colorado residents, with 50 percent of the self-reported concerns in the state originating in Weld County. Responding to stakeholders, air sampling was conducted and reports provided for 6 Tier III responses.
‘Six Tier III community investigations, which included community air sampling, accounted for 65% of reported concerns,’ according to OGHIR.
Five of the six reports included Weld County sampling data.
‘OGHIR deployed the Colorado Air Monitoring Mobile Laboratory (CAMML) to three of the investigations, resulting in approximately 500 sampling hours. Each hourly sample includes about 1000 individual data points,’ the authors explained.
‘In general, the data collected from air sampling investigations have shown low risk for short- and long-term health effects to people in communities reporting concerns,’ the authors found.”
About the “Doctor”
As Denver7 reported, Ewaskowitz paid a Lafayette doctor “to conduct what’s known as a VOC or volatile organic compounds blood level test on her son.”
The doctor was not a physician but a Registered Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine based in the Boulder County area. According to Colorado State Law, “A naturopathic doctor shall not use: (a) the term “physician”; (b) the abbreviations “NMD” of “N.M.D.”; (c) the term “naturopathic medical doctor”. They are not permitted to treat children less than two years of age or “engage in or perform the practice of medicine, surgery, or any other form of healing except as authorized by this article:”
Instead of conventional medicinal practice most of us are accustomed to, naturopathic medicine focuses on encouraging self-healing. Even though Ewaskowitz referred to this practitioner as a “doctor” and “physician” in an extended interview with Denver7, he is not an M.D.
Activists Use COGCC Hearings – Another Activist Here?
EID has attended our fair share of COGCC hearings in the past. It’s now commonplace for activists to use these meetings to advance their agenda, conduct various stunts, and abuse the public commenting period.
Since we’ve witnessed these stunts firsthand, it was worth investigating if this particular resident is affiliated with any activist groups. A quick Google/social media search shows numerous posts railing against fossil fuels, including one that protested against the Keystone XL Pipeline and another expressing support for an Erie Protectors anti-fracking initiative.
Of course, any health concerns should be met with careful attention and vigilance. But it’s important to heed the facts before letting media headlines draw conclusions in the place of hard facts and data. Let’s remember, according to the state’s top medical doctor, Dr. Larry Wolk, “There’s no reason to believe that there is a causal relationship between oil and gas operations and chronic diseases or cancers.”
CDPHE has shown a willingness and ability to be active in response to community concerns and to continually review health factors surrounding oil and gas development. Safety has, and always will be, top consideration. But let’s make sure sound science and hard data is what ultimately informs Colorado’s energy policy.