RIFLE A state panel Monday approved a $65,000 study to assess the possible effects of natural-gas development on human health in Garfield County.The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission gave its consent after hearing further complaints by local residents about illnesses they say have resulted from energy-industry activity. County oil and gas auditor Doug Dennison cited those complaints as he described the purpose of the study.I think from what youve heard this morning, its probably pretty timely, Dennison told the COGCC.The commission held its July meeting in Rifle on Monday in part to make it easier for area residents to discuss concerns related to the countys booming natural-gas industry.Already this year, 650 gas-drilling permits have been issued in the county, compared to about 800 for all of last year, COGCC director Brian Macke said Monday. Statewide, permits could total 3,900 to 4,000 for the year, well in excess of last years record 2,917. So far, Garfield County is accounting for about a third of permits statewide.With that drilling has come an increasing number of residents who say they are paying a physical price for the countys energy boom.Susan Haire, who lives on Morrisania Mesa near Battlement Mesa, said she has become ill this year since doing irrigation work near a Williams Production gas well. She has dealt with itching of her eyes and face, coughing, leg nerve inflammation that has hindered her ability to walk and other symptoms, many of which have occurred only when she has been near the well, she said.On June 24 she experienced an extreme exposure to gases at the well, and suffered a blinding headache, she said.I dont know what happened at that well. All I know is how sick I am, she said.Macke told Haire that COGCC staff would investigate her concerns.The state already is looking at health problems Elizabeth Mobaldi said she suffered after a well was drilled in 1997 less than 1,000 feet from where she lived on County Road 320 west of Rifle. She told the COGCC Monday she dealt for years with odors from the well.Her water well also was affected by contamination when the water well at the Goad residence a half-mile away blew up because of gas drilling, she said.Mobaldi said she has endured severe burning and itching skin, painful joints, blisters, difficulty walking, weight loss, headaches and vision loss. She eventually had a tumor on her pituitary gland removed, and it later returned and was treated with radiation.We lived in that house for over 10 years and loved it and wanted to stay there. But 10 months ago we had to leave because we felt the air and water were causing my illnesses, she said.Mobaldi said her health has improved since she moved to Grand Junction.Jaime Adkins, northwest Colorado area engineer for the COGCC, said the state hasnt been able to find any evidence of the gas well contaminating Mobaldis well water.The state also found no connection between the problem at the Goad property and the Mobaldi well, he said. He said he also has been unable to smell the odors that concern Mobaldi.Bob Chesson, the COGCCs environmental protection specialist in northwest Colorado, said no testing at the Mobaldi property has taken place for several years, and more water and soil testing will be done.Lisa Sumi, research director with the Oil & Gas Accountability Project in Durango, said air monitoring should occur as well, rather than just relying on investigators sense of smell.Later Monday, the COGCC agreed to use remaining money from a $371,200 fine on EnCana Oil & Gas USA last year to fund the human health risk study. The record fine was imposed after natural gas from an EnCana well surfaced last year in West Divide Creek south of Silt. The bulk of the money is funding a hydrogeological study in the area of the seep.Dennison said Saccomanno Research Institute, part of St. Marys Hospital in Grand Junction, will conduct the health study. The study will gauge the publics perceptions of the health impacts of gas development and try to establish the degree to which concerns are justified.The study will make use of focus groups and in-home interviews, and rely on the help of Mesa State College students.Teresa Coons, senior scientist for the institute, said the study will make use of existing data about drillings impacts, and perhaps seek to fill in gaps in that data. Researchers also will look at tumor registries and cancer incidence information, and examine survey participants family health histories, as well as other factors, such as smoking.She said its rare to be able to link a health condition with a single cause. However, its possible to establish causal relationships when looking at thousands of cases of illness, she said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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