‘Mystery solved’ on Garfield County telephone survey
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
The director of a Grand Junction-based educational organization was caught by surprise this week when she learned her group had caused a minor political maelstrom with a survey of county residents.
The survey was conducted in early October, and was funded by a Denver-based foundation interested in learning more about public reaction to a recent Health Impact Assessment concerning the Battlement Mesa community.
Conducted by telephone, it was based on only six questions, and the callers were from various points around the U.S.
The callers asked 2,300 respondents throughout the county if they were concerned by the HIA’s findings that gas wells near residential areas may pose health hazards related to declining air and water quality, increased traffic and other developments.
Activists on both sides of the oil and gas political divide caught wind of the survey and grew suspicious of its purpose. Industry critics wondered if it was a move to undermine the HIA somehow and made the gas drillers look better, and industry officials wondered if it was a ploy to solidify opposition to gas drilling in Battlement Mesa.
“This was a solo survey intended for use by me,” said Carol Giffin-Jeansonne, director of the Western Colorado Area Health Education Center, in a telephone press conference on Wednesday.
She explained that she learned of the HIA and wondered whether its findings were causing anxiety among the citizens, and whether her organization might be of use in dealing with any such anxiety.
The HIA, sponsored by Garfield County, was intended to provide a baseline of data regarding the general health of Battlement Mesa residents, in advance of plans by Antero Resources to drill up to 200 wells in the neighborhood, as well as an overall look at information related to human exposure to gas and oil drilling activities.
According to results provided by Giffin-Jeansonne, around 70 percent of respondents said they were either “somewhat concerned” or “very concerned” about the possibility that air and water quality might be jeopardized by gas drilling activities in the county.
When asked what they feel is the most important issue facing the county in terms of gas drilling, nearly 60 percent said the potential contamination of water and soil. Air pollution followed at 20 percent.
The survey, Giffin-Jeansonne emphasized, “wasn’t meant to be scientific, at all,” and was not intended to be used as a political football between gas industry supporters and critics.
“We’re not a political entity,” she declared, adding that as a former resident of New Orleans she does not believe that “oil and gas is the enemy.”
Rather, she said, “We believe that energy development is an important component of our economy.”
The WCAHEC, she said, got started in the 1970s in response to a shortage of health care providers in rural parts of the U.S., and grew into an educational organization focused on medical and health-care issues. She said the funding organization, Western Conservation Funding, approached her with the proposal, and provided “about $12,000” to cover the costs of the survey.
The WCF is an environmentally-oriented group that had never sponsored a survey such as this before, and had never been involved in oil and gas issues prior to now, according to its chief operating officer, Robin Villa.
Villa said the foundation was intrigued by Garfield County’s sponsorship of the HIA, which observers have called the first time such a study has been used for such a purpose.
Chuckling over news that the survey had excited suspicions among industry supporters and critics alike, Villa declared, “Mystery solved.”
She added, “We have no plans to do anything with the research results,” beyond hoping that the WCAHEC is able to help the county in some way.
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