Claudette Konola

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November 29, 2012
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KONOLA: Action Alert, new oil and gas rules are being made

I'm sure that some people reading this think that all regulations should be designed by business interests, but given that we are a government of and by the people, I reject that notion.

Government, whether it is large, small, or just right, is supposed to be accountable to the people. One way that it is accountable to the people is through public hearings when regulations are being written.

This is one such time.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is currently taking comments about two proposed new rules. One rule will establish a statewide standard for how far a well must be sited away from things like homes and schools. The other rule will establish standards for monitoring water quality close to oil and gas activities. Neither of the proposed rules are based on much science.

Let's explore the set-back rule.

Currently, wells must be set back 350 feet in urban settings, and 150 feet in rural settings. The 150 feet rule was based on the height of the typical rig, and where it might land if it fell. It has nothing to do with how noisy the operations are, how many trucks might be delivering things to the site, how many hours in a day the operations might disrupt students learning or homeowners sleeping. It also has nothing to do with the actual dangers posed to the health of people breathing in the vicinity.

A recent peer-reviewed scientific study suggests that people living within a mile of drilling operations are risking their health, especially if they are children or pregnant women. The study was done by TEDX, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange.

For one full year, local scientists monitored the air quality around a new well pad in Garfield County through all phases of operations: before, during, and after drilling and fracking. Authors of the study attribute COGCC data when they state "there were 130 wells producing natural gas within one mile of the sampling site at the time of the study." This particular well pad was subject to COGCC restrictions designed to protect water and wildlife habitat, including a requirement that a closed loop system be employed.

The results were both a good-news and a bad-news story. The good news is that fracking wasn't any worse than drilling when air quality was measured. In fact, drilling may be worse than fracking. The bad news was that "methylene chloride, a toxic solvent not reported in products used in drilling or hydraulic fracturing, was detected 73% of the time." Methylene chloride is toxic to humans and wildlife.

"Methylene chloride is not a natural component in raw gas, and is predominantly used as a solvent. As far as we are aware, it is not a component in drilling or fracturing fluids. It does not appear on two extensive lists of more than 750 chemicals that companies admit they use during either operation ... and it does not appear on the voluntary fracturing chemical disclosure registry (FracFocus 2012) for the well pad of interest in this study. However, residents and gas field workers have reported that methylene chloride is stored on well pads for cleaning purposes."

OSHA warns that methylene chloride is a potential carcinogen. According to OSHA, short-term exposure may lead to "confusion, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, and headache." Long-term exposure may harm the eye and cause respiratory distress.

So, this dangerous chemical is stored and used on well pads, yet none of the OSHA-required disclosures are taking place - mostly because they apply to the workplace and not residential areas. Given the prevalence of this toxic and potentially carcinogenic chemical in the test results, 350 feet may not be far enough away from schools and homes to prevent the public from health issues related to exposure to methylene chloride. The study suggests that one mile may be too close. Yet people working on this rule are reluctant to require even a 1,000 feet set-back.

The actual proposed rules can be found at the COGCC website. Express your opinion at the website, or at scheduled hearings. The hearings will be held in Denver on Monday, Dec. 10, at 9 a.m. and Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 9 a.m.

Claudette Konola encourages citizens to participate in all phases of government, including the rule-making process for regulations.

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The Post Independent Updated Nov 29, 2012 12:52PM Published Nov 29, 2012 12:51PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.