Panel in Carbondale discusses health effects of drilling |

Panel in Carbondale discusses health effects of drilling

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE, Colorado ” As the specter of oil and gas drilling occurring near Carbondale looms, a panel of experts and advocates spoke out Thursday night about growing concerns that drilling may have adverse effects on nearby residents’ health.

Many of those on the panel, which was held at Carbondale Middle School, focused on the impacts oil and gas development reportedly has had on the health of residents in western Garfield County. That is an area that has about 5,050 active wells, with another possible 6,000 wells expected to be drilled in the area in the next six years.

The Wilderness Workshop, a Carbondale-based environmental organization, hosted the panel Thursday night. There were no presentations from the oil and gas industry.

Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop, said with oil and gas companies targeting the Thompson Creek Area, which is southwest of Carbondale, “it behooves us all to be aware of what is happening in the gas patch of Garfield County.”

Most oil and gas production around Carbondale is expected to occur on mineral leases near Thompson Creek southwest of Carbondale.

Recently, seven researchers from the University of Colorado-Denver and Colorado State University wrote in a paper that there is an “acute problem with toxic emissions” from natural gas development, which could signify an “emergent problem for the health” of Garfield County residents.

That paper, which focused on Garfield County, called for additional research about oil and gas development’s impacts on local residents’ health and was based on recent studies conducted in the area.

Roxana Witter, clinical instructor at CU Denver’s Colorado School of Public Health and one of the researchers of that paper, said that medical literature reflects that oil and gas chemicals and emissions are “health hazards.”

“Environmental monitoring is needed to qualify and quantify hazardous emissions,” Witter said. “Without monitoring, it is scientifically impossible to determine the safety of oil and gas activity.”

Witter and the other researchers involved in the paper have called for a health impact assessment to be included in part of the permitting process for oil and gas development.

Jeremy Nichols, director of the Wild Earth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program, said there have been close to 300,000 gas wells drilled in the Rocky Mountain West. It is expected that another 126,000 wells will be drilled in the next 15 to 20 years on federal lands. Millions more acres of federal leases are under control by oil and gas companies, he said.

Nichols said Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data showed that oil and gas releases reportedly account for 69 percent of all benzene emissions into the air in Garfield County. Benzene is a known carcinogen.

“It gives you a sense of the magnitude,” Nichols said of oil and gas development in the county.

Judy Jordan, oil and gas liaison for Garfield County, said the presence of benzene in a tank “does not mean that everyone is going to get cancer.” Echoing many of Witter’s comments, she said “there are more questions than answers” in regard to oil and gas development’s impacts on human health.

“The county has done studies and is in the process of doing more,” said Jordan, who largely covered the county’s role in oil and gas development in the area.

Other speakers at the Thursday panel included Theo Colborn, president of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange and a professor emeritus in the Department of Zoology at the University of Florida. Mary Ellen Denomy, a certified petroleum accountant, also spoke.

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