State kills Battlement Mesa air quality grant application | PostIndependent.com

State kills Battlement Mesa air quality grant application

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

An application for federal funds to study air quality in the Battlement Mesa area has been pulled by the state health department, an official at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) confirmed this week.

The application was pulled, according to CDPHE communications director Mark Salley, because the officials involved could not agree on how the study should proceed, or the study’s “parameters.”

Garfield County environmental health manager Jim Rada told the Post Independent that the county still hopes to find funding for air quality monitoring, and that an industry advocacy group has offered to help.

Officials from Garfield County, the CDPHE, the oil and gas industry and environmental organizations were working on an application for a grant of roughly $850,000 to conduct a three-year study of air quality impacts from oil and gas development.

That grant total was to include a matching amount of more than $116,000 from Garfield County. The Colorado School of Public Health was to conduct the monitoring.

Battlement Mesa, an unincorporated community of approximately 5,000 near Parachute, is waiting for Antero Resources to start drilling up to 200 natural gas wells on nine well pads scattered throughout the community.

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No application for the wells had been received at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) as of the end of August, according to COGCC director Dave Neslin.

Salley wrote in an email that the grant application was pulled in mid-August “when we realized we needed to do more to be sure that what we were asking the study to look at would ultimately be beneficial to a wider group” than just Garfield County health officials and the industry.

Plus, he said, “We believe a better outcome is reached when we can get basic agreement up-front, rather than have to defend the merits of the study after it is completed.”

An earlier study aimed at establishing a base line for health information regarding Battlement Mesa residents, known as a Health Impact Assessment, was scuttled by the Garfield County Commissioners before it was completed.

The commissioners said at the time that the HIA, as it was known, had become a “political football” subject to endless wrangling among industry critics, the CDPHE and the school of public health over the findings in the study.

HIA supporters in Battlement Mesa, upset by the commissioners’ ending of the project, noted that it was the commissioners themselves who permitted two extensions of the HIA deadline to gather additional comments. The county received reams of critical comments from the gas drilling industry, and from the CDPHE, which found fault with the methodology of the HIA.

The grant application that was submitted to the EPA, and subsequently pulled, contained references to the findings of the HIA, such as the HIA’s conclusion that Battlement Mesa residents “will most likely be affected” by exposure to “hazardous air pollutants” coming from gas drilling activities.

Martha Rudolph, director of the CDPHE’s environmental programs, acknowledged that state officials were worried that an EPA sponsored study might run into the same difficulties as the HIA.

“I felt that was kind of the direction we were heading,” she said, which is why the application was pulled.

She said the state continues to work to come up with a way to conduct a study, noting, “The EPA is interested in this kind of information, as well.”

Rada, in an e-mail to the Post Independent late on Sept. 2, wrote that “the county was not in disagreement with the parameters of the study,” noting that more than 19 percent of Battlement Mesa’s population is over 65 years old.

Rada also noted that, while the focus of the discussion so far has been to study Battlement Mesa only, the study area may have been expanded to other areas.

Speaking of the possibility of future grant applications and efforts to find money for air quality studies, Rada said the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association “has some ideas as to how we might move forward.”

But, he added, “We’re in very, very preliminary stages of that.”

jcolson@postindependent.com