GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Garfield County is set to expand its own air quality monitoring efforts throughout the county, with a continued focus on oil and gas activity in the Parachute and Battlement Mesa area.
County commissioners tentatively agreed at a Tuesday work session to purchase a mobile air monitoring station at a cost of $110,000.
The county already spends about $172,000 annually to monitor and record air pollution levels from Parachute to Carbondale.
The addition of the new monitoring unit, which will test for more compounds than are now being monitored, will add another $62,000 per year to that cost.
In addition to four monitoring stations between Silt and Parachute/Battlement Mesa, the county is also erecting a new station outside Carbondale at Colorado Rocky Mountain School.
The program aims to track how much pollution comes from oil and gas development, as well as other existing sources.
It also sets a baseline in areas where natural gas activity is not now occurring, but could in the future, such as the Thompson Divide area outside Carbondale.
"One of the goals here is to not use fear, and to have good information instead of reacting to the pressures of politics," Commission Chairman John Martin said at the work session.
"We need to have facts instead of hysteria," he said.
The Board of County Commissioners will formally consider the additional expenditure at an upcoming regular meeting.
Currently, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) also contributes about $87,000 annually toward the air quality monitoring in Garfield County.
"I would like to encourage the state to pay for more of this," Commissioner Mike Samson suggested.
Garfield County Environmental Health Director Jim Rada presented an update on the air monitoring program at the Tuesday meeting, along with CDPHE Air Pollution Program Manager Gordon Pierce.
The new mobile unit will be similar to ones used in Wyoming and other natural gas producing areas. It would initially be used to enhance monitoring in and around Battlement Mesa.
Increased air quality monitoring in that area was one of the recommendations that came out of a health impact assessment commissioned by the county in response to Antero Resources' plans to drill for natural gas inside the unincorporated community south of Parachute.
The drilling plan has been put on hold for the time being. The health report, which was being conducted by the Colorado School of Public Health, was also decommissioned by the county last spring before a final report could be issued. The school recently issued a final report on its own.
Because the mobile monitoring unit can be moved, it could be used as gas development shifts to different parts of the county, Rada said.
Garfield County first began its air quality monitoring in 2002. The monitoring stations collect data on particulate matter (PM-10) and volatile organic compounds (VOC), such as ethylene, benzene, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.
In recent years, levels of air pollution from those substances have actually decreased, coinciding with the downturn in natural gas activity in Garfield County.
Other conclusions of the current monitoring program and emissions inventory, according to Rada's report, include:
• Typical oil-and-gas-related compounds tend to be higher in rural areas where most of the development is occurring, and also tend to be higher in the county's urban areas.
• Concentrations of compounds in Battlement Mesa are typically a bit lower than in Parachute.
• VOCs are strongly related to oil and gas sources.
• Carbon monoxide and PM-10 are strongly related to other area sources, including traffic on highways and county roads.
"I wouldn't characterize it as an alarming situation," Rada said of the pollution levels in the county's gas-producing areas. "But there are localized situations in the county that could contribute to health issues within our population."
Rada said the program is important to gather local data, rather than relying on statewide information.
"Gathering our own data better helps us understand what's happening here," Rada said.