GVCA, residents air their pollution concerns to EPA officials
The Environmental Protection Agency closely questioned members of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance about just what they wanted to get out of an air toxin monitoring program.
A meeting Wednesday in Battlement Mesa of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance drew about 20 local residents, and included representatives of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Williams Companies, American Soda, Garfield County Commissioner John Martin and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
GVCA called the meeting to explore options for funding an air toxin monitor in Parachute. It would determine if hazardous gases such as benzene and carbon monoxide are in the air.
“Do you want to know what’s in the air and that it’s OK, or do you want us to do something about it?” asked Callie Videtich, unit leader with the EPA Region 8 air technical assistance program in Denver. “If we identify no air quality problem are you prepared to hear that?”
Videtich said it’s important to know what outcome people want in order to design the appropriate monitoring program.
She also tried to pin people down on where they think the air pollution is originating, either around natural gas wells or a variety of sources.
“They require very different monitoring,” Videtich said.
“Our desire is to know the cumulative impact as wells have proliferated and if it is a public health issue,” said Parachute resident John Broderick.
And if the concerns about odors and the emissions from gas wells are not an air quality problem, “then it will lay to rest that fear of a cumulative effect,” he said.
Commissioner John Martin had strong words to say about air pollution in the Colorado River Valley.
“Garfield County has grown 50 percent in population in the last 10 years. It’s had increased industrial use, more cars, more woodstoves and oil and gas development,” he said. “There’s something in the air here.”
While Martin applauded Williams and other natural gas drilling companies for improving their industrial processes, he said that underground deposits of radioactive uranium and vanadium may have been disturbed by drilling and flaring, or burning off natural gas at the wellhead.
“We looked hard at that. I think that’s an irresponsible statement,” said Williams regulatory and environmental manager Duane Zavadil. “In all likelihood, if we have an air quality problem out here, it’s pretty low.”
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission deputy director Brian Macke pointed out that “gas development is exempt from air pollution (regulations). Production is not exempt, but (emissions) are considered to be insignificant.”
Zavadil also said Williams has installed 20 odor-control devices on wells close to residences in their drilling area at cost of $13,000 each.
But GVCA president Janey Hines Broderick said the group has had many calls over the last few years complaining about poor air quality.
“We’ve had 50 to 75 calls since 1997 saying my kid has a runny nose, and it stinks like crazy around here,” she said.
Other GVCA members spoke of huge black clouds threading up from gas wells and constant odor coming from an evaporation pit near Anvil Points west of Rifle.
“It’s the same odor I smell when I go to the dump,” one man said.
Both EPA and state health department officials said they will offer expertise and modest grants to help GVCA establish an air toxin monitoring program. But monitors are expensive.
Ray Mohr of the state health department said air toxin monitors cost about $200,000 to set up and are also costly to maintain.
GVCA installed a less costly air particulates, or dust, monitor on top of Grand Valley High School in Parachute last year at its own expense. But it now wants a more sophisticated monitor to detect cancer-causing pollutants including benzene and carbon monoxide.
Mohr said the state health department is willing to give about $10,000 to get a community initiative off the ground, and EPA is willing to provide technical expertise to determine what type of monitoring is needed.
Zavadil said Williams will also contribute to a monitoring effort.
“We’re not interested at all in hiding problems out here. We will participate in the process and contribute financially. If there is a problem, we will fix it,” he said.
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