County drills for data on gas industry impacts
The public has questions.Garfield County commissioners are looking for answers.Stepping up with a lot of the county’s money to make sure the work gets done, commissioners are pushing forward with multiple efforts to look at the local impacts of the natural gas industry.The county is spearheading research into how drilling is impacting air quality, and going forward with a Cumulative Impact Study gauging the industry’s social and economic impacts.This research will dovetail with a study to be funded by last year’s $371,000 fine against EnCana for the Divide Creek seep. That study will focus on drilling’s impacts on the region’s water and geology, and also entail a health-risk analysis.Put together, these efforts should lead to a comprehensive look at what drilling is doing to the county, both for bad and good.The socioeconomic study will look at gas production’s impacts on property values, local government revenues, employment, roads and other infrastructure, human services, schools, recreation, police and emergency services, and overall demographics.The county originally proposed that the study be funded by the EnCana proceeds, but to its credit decided to fund it separately when it was turned down. Ditto for the air quality study. Ideally, this would be paid for by an agency such as the state’s health department or Department of Local Affairs, through its Energy Impact Fund. But the health department pleaded poverty due to Colorado’s ongoing fiscal crisis and could grant only $10,000, and the impact fund bid was turned down despite the study’s focus on energy impacts.So commissioners decided to spend $150,000 this year for the first phase of the socioeconomic study, and $380,000 over the next two years to look into air quality issues.While driven by drilling concerns, these studies will take a broader look at the issues, examining other sources of air pollution such as Interstate 70 traffic, and development beyond that gas industry. Still, they should yield data that will help zero in on what drilling is doing to the county. The increase in understanding and awareness should help the public, policymakers and the industry itself as they discuss issues such as what kinds of regulations are warranted, and factor into those decisions what level of wealth is being produced locally by gas development.As the county has come to increasingly benefit from the taxes and royalties brought in by drilling, it is appropriate that it also help fund studies geared at gauging the industry’s impacts.
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