CSU air study results expected this summer

Ryan Hoffman
A drilling rig stands in Battlement Mesa.
Randy Essex / Post Independent |

Garfield County officials could get their first glimpse at a multiyear study analyzing emissions from natural gas sites as early as June.

Researchers with Colorado State University have spent the past three years collecting air emissions data from natural gas operations, specifically during the drilling and completion — the latter is commonly known as fracking — phases at sites in Garfield County. The county is the primary financial backer of the $1.76 million study.

In an update to county commissioners Monday, Morgan Hill, an environmental health specialist with the county, said staff tentatively expects to receive the study June 7, which would give them one week to review the document before it is presented during a special session on June 14. Hill cautioned that the dates are still tentative and could change.

As previously reported by the Post Independent, the study has run into some issues due to the slowdown in new well activity.

However, Jeff Collett, head of the CSU Atmospheric Science Department, confirmed Monday that researchers are shooting for a June completion date.

“The study is now in its final stages,” he said in an email. “We are completing analysis of collected data and anticipate submitting a final report in June.”

If the planned dates hold true, the study would be released to the public after it is presented to the commissioners June 14.

As part of the update, staff asked commissioners to approve an extension of the intergovernmental agreement through June 30. The extension was sought in order to allow CSU more time to complete the study and go through its technical advisory committee review process, Hill said.

She noted that the $1 million pledged by the county has been fully funded and the extension was not tied to any additional financial obligations. Along with the funding from the county, industry also has contributed to the study.

Independent of the Garfield County study, CSU also is conducting a similar study in the north Front Range that also includes emissions during the production phase. That report was funded by the state and is expected to be completed by June 30.

In a simplified sense, the reports are large collections of data, Hill said.

However, both could be used by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to conduct a health risk assessment, which was included in one of nine recommendations from a special oil and gas task force in early 2015.

The assessment would look at the potential health impacts, long-term and short-term, from exposure to certain chemicals during various phases of resource extraction, said Gordon Pierce, technical services program manager in the CDPHE Air Pollution Control Division.

The task force recommendation directed CDPHE to seek funding for the assessment, and stated that research “should use the latest and most accurate data, including the air quality monitoring data from emission and dispersion studies currently being conducted by Colorado State University in Garfield County and the North Front Range, and shall be conducted in a manner to comply with current scientific standards.”

The budget recently approved by the Colorado House of Representatives includes funding for the assessment, and work would start sometime after July 1 if the funding remains in the final budget, according to Pierce.

Pierce added that he was uncertain if CDPHE would contract that work out or conduct it in house. Assuming the funding is granted, the assessment is supposed to be complete by March 2018.

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