Post Independent opinion: Drilling emissions study is needed to clear the air |

Post Independent opinion: Drilling emissions study is needed to clear the air

Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

An effort to obtain a federal grant that would pay for extensive air monitoring around gas drilling sites stumbled earlier this month when the state health department scuttled the grant application.

While the reasons for pulling the grant are likely mired in politics, the study and the answers it would provide are still urgently needed. Too many aspects of the air pollution produced by gas drilling are unknown, generating fear and distrust between residents, operators and regulators.

To its credit, the Western Slope chapter of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association has suggested a new study option, and Garfield County officials are pursuing the idea.

The new proposal is aimed at producing data-only study results. It would stop short of a final study element included in the earlier air monitoring proposal – using the air quality data to develop and assess risks to public health.

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Health risks, of course, are the real bottom line that residents want to know and understand.

But if the gas industry, county government and state agencies can jointly pursue a study yielding data about the chemistry and dispersal of air pollution from gas drilling, follow-on research could link that data to health risks.

The data-only study as it is being discussed would still be plenty meaty. It would take air samples from the edges of drilling pads during flow-back operations, as well as samples stepping away from the pad at various distances to the north, south, east and west.

Sampling data would include measurements taken during calm and windy weather, and at sites with varying types of terrain. The project would also create a model, or series of models, showing how uncontained gas emissions released during flow-back operations are likely to disperse, given a variety of weather and topographic conditions.

A second point in the industry trade group’s suggestion is to find a new research organization to carry out the work. Industry spokesmen contend that work done by the Colorado School of Public Health earlier this year on the Battlement Mesa Health Impact Assessment had become politicized by drilling opponents.

The Western Slope COGA has suggested the Colorado State University School of Atmospheric Studies would be qualified to carry out the technical air sampling and develop emission dispersal models.

It’s important that all parties – including community groups – have a high level of confidence in the researchers. At the same time, the monitoring work needs to be conducted at well over arm’s length from the gas industry. The last thing we need is another study embroiled in politics and accusations of bias.

Garfield County has an opportunity to lead the country in a close examination of what happens to the gas emissions from drilling sites during flow-back. We urge officials to commit the necessary funding for this study, and then step back and let the scientists do their work.

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