Garfield County delays final health assessment
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
A final version of a “health impact assessment” [HIA] for the Battlement Mesa area will have to wait, perhaps for as much as four months, the Garfield County commissioners decided this week.
And it remains to be seen how that delay could affect a subsequent detailed monitoring study.
The HIA, which was budgeted for $158,000, was to be followed by a second phase called a Battlement Mesa Environmental Health Analysis Monitoring Study [EHAMS].
The two studies were commissioned in response to concerns about health impacts from gas drilling activities in the community.
Together the two parts of the study were meant to keep track of any health effects that might arise as a result of a plan by Antero Resources to drill up to 200 gas wells near the Battlement Mesa community.
The design of the EHAMS is now underway, at a budgeted cost of approximately $68,000.
But because the draft HIA drew a barrage of critical comments from the oil and gas industry, as well as from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the process has hit a snag.
Officials mentioned that more than 400 comments had been received regarding the HIA, its methodology and its conclusions.
“There was a variety of divergent viewpoints,” remarked Garfield County Commissioner John Martin at the board of county commissioners meeting on Dec. 13.
Martin firmly insisted that the University of Colorado-Denver’s School of Public Health, which conducted the HIA and is in line to do any follow-up monitoring as well, take the time it needs to go through the comments and make any changes that might be necessary.
“It’s a document that’s still a theory,” he told Dr. Roxana Witter, lead scientist on the study, who attended the meeting via a telephone hookup. “Please make the document something that we can rely on. We’re not looking for a political tool on either side [or] for national political rhetoric.”
Martin indicated a belief the HIA had become just such a tool for people who believe gas drilling can pose health hazards to anyone living nearby.
“I don’t think it is [a political tool],” responded commissioner Tresi Houpt, adding that “we need to be very careful … to make sure the integrity of the document is protected and the true health opinion is brought forward.”
Regarding the CDPHE comments, Houpt said the objections to the HIA methodology “would be pertinent if we had given different directions.” She argued that the health department’s objections had to do with issues that never were meant to be addressed by the HIA, such as the extent of in-home pollution experienced by residents of Battlement Mesa.
Commissioner Mike Samson agreed with Martin that the draft HIA needs more work, and that it is being watched closely both locally and nationally for its conclusions and the impact of those conclusions.
Martin brought up plans for monitoring air quality, which was to begin next week at the Watson Ranch gas drilling pad located just outside the Battlement Mesa boundary, but Witter said it had not yet begun.
“Antero has asked us not to do that sampling next week,” she said, explaining that the company told her that “technology they’re going to be using at Battlement Mesa is not available.”
In the meantime, she said, the school is talking to Williams Production about using one of their pads for air quality sampling.
“I can’t assume anything in terms of Antero not wanting that testing to go ahead,” remarked Houpt, adding that she would have expected the company to be eager to “showcase the new technology.”
Martin, seeming displeased at the delay, repeatedly demanded that Witter get busy obtaining data, saying the county wants to know “what is the air quality right now?”
The county’s environmental health director, Jim Rada, pointed out that air quality monitoring was to be part of the EHAMS, and not part of the HIA, according to the county’s instructions concerning the study.
Officials working on the study estimated that doing the extra work of analyzing and responding to the multitude of comments would cost an additional $41,000 or so in salaries alone if it takes two months.
That cost would rise, they indicated, if the process consumes more than two months.
“Whatever tools they need to respond to this process should be there,” said Houpt as the discussion ended.
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