Few studies done on air safety, health effects near drilling sites

Few studies done on air safety, health effects near drilling sites by Bobby MaGill, August 13, 2012, The Coloradan
John Toerge says he’s like many other people living close to oil and gas development in Colorado — the effects of drilling aren’t just felt in the local economy, they’re felt in his nose, lungs and ears, too. “When they did this well a quarter mile from my house, I started noticing I was getting bloody noses, respiratory problems,” he said. … There’s a lot that’s unknown about what’s in the air around oil and gas, but one thing is known: Benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, heptane, octane, diethylbenzene and other substances all make up an alphabet soup of both carcinogenic and non-cancer-causing pollutants found in the air around oil and gas drilling sites in Colorado. What’s less known is how far it spreads. … The details of how oil and gas-related chemicals in the air can affect human health in Colorado are largely unknown partly because oil and gas air emissions are both an extremely political topic and extremely difficult to study. … But a Colorado study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released this year using 2008 air quality data collected from the Boulder Atmospheric Observatory in Erie shows that the northern Front Range urban corridor had an abnormally high level of methane and benzene in the air that year that were directly traceable to oil and gas wells. … So far, one of the studies that has delved deepest into oil and gas emissions is a politically-fraught 2011 Colorado School of Public Health study commissioned by Garfield County that attempted to fill in some of the gaps in the state’s knowledge of the public health risks associated with air emissions from oil and gas drilling. Using air quality data collected at the edge of drilling sites during fracking, that study, published this March in the journal “Science of the Total Environment,” concluded that people living within a half-mile of a natural gas well are at a greater risk of possibly harmful exposure to carcinogens such as benzene than those living farther away. People living close to wells being fracked are exposed to brief periods of highly concentrated non-cancer-causing pollutants that can lead to many different health effects, the study says. Those residents also have a higher cancer risk partly because of benzene exposure, it says. Symptoms, such as those Toerge said he experienced, are not uncommon, said the study’s co-author, Lisa McKenzie, research associate at the Colorado School of Public Health. … But in drawing those conclusions, McKenzie and her co-authors learned that wading into the waters of investigating the oil and gas industry’s impact on public health can be perilous, particularly during a public comment process on the study. “The volume of comments we were getting on the document were larger than the document itself,” she said. McKenzie’s study was so controversial that Garfield County commissioners stopped work on it in June 2011 before it was finalized for use in determining possible public health impacts of an Antero Resources proposal to drill near homes in Battlement Mesa. … “Various sides can jump on uncertainties and limitations and use that to say the study isn’t good,” McKenzie said. “That’s pretty much what happened here. It just became bogged down in the politics in the whole thing — it just drowned out any science that was going on.”

This entry was posted in Global Frac News. Bookmark the permalink.