Colorado State University (CSU) professor Jeffrey Collett gave a presentation this week to the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners on a multi-year emissions study that CSU researchers have just completed. Despite the fact that Collett didn’t present on the actual results (he said data will be available on July 1st) the study has already led to some suggestive headlines. As we await the publication of the data, here are a few things to keep in mind:
#1. Researchers said they did not find a threat to public health or the environment
Most importantly, Collet indicated to Garfield County Commissioners that his data do not show a threat to public health or the environment.
When asked about a provision of the study requiring the research team to notify the County if they found an “urgent health, safety, or welfare concern,” Collett told Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson they had not. From the exchange:
Collet: “Yes that’s right we will, of course if it’s an urgent immediate concern we can initiate emergency action through the typical emergency channels here in the county. But if we see other things we can also respond back to the county and let you know about those findings.” (1:33:48-1:34)
Samson: “And, fair to say you haven’t found any of that type of information yet?” (1:34:08-1:34:10)
Collet: “We have not needed to take that kind of action so far.” (1:34:11 1:34:16)
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported a bit more context on Collet’s comment:
“Collett said none of the emissions findings were particularly alarming. Researchers were required to notify the county immediately if they found anything that posed an imminent health risk, and that never was necessary. Collett said standards for benzene are primarily occupation-based, and a variety of benzene standards exist and would have been applicable in terms of measuring any immediate health risk, including to the research team.
“We didn’t see concentrations near those standards,” he said. (emphasis added)
That indication alone is significant because the CSU study looks at the extent and composition of air emissions during natural gas development, including fracking in Garfield County, known for producing the second highest amount of natural gas in the state. It also sits atop the Mancos Shale, which was recently assessed as the second largest natural gas reserve in the nation. Also from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
“The study also found no indications of emission levels high enough to cause immediate public concern. However, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment plans to use the findings, and similar research CSU plans to release this summer based on drilling on the Front Range, in working on a health-risk assessment associated with oil and gas operations.” (emphasis added)
#2. Finding of no public health concern contradicts years of activist claims
Activists have been claiming for years in Colorado that fracking is “is inherently harmful to public health” and must be banned. Activists have even recklessly attempted to link oil and gas development to birth defects on the Western Slope, despite being rebuked by state regulators.
For example, after a team of researchers who are frequently cited by the activist community released a study claiming a correlation between birth defects and natural gas development in rural Colorado, one well-known activist, Gary Wockner, claimed that: “Fracking causes babies to be deformed.” Of course those claims were swiftly discredited by state health officials. From a statement released by Dr. Larry Wolk, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:
“[W]e disagree with many of the specific associations with the occurrence of birth defects noted within the study. Therefore, a reader of the study could easily be misled to become overly concerned.”
#3. Numerous studies show low air emissions from fracking
In 2012, after activist groups raised concerns over emissions related to oil and natural gas development in Erie, CO, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Air Pollution Control Division, installed air sampling monitors near a well site that had come under intense criticism from the activists. The purpose of the sampling was to measure air emissions that may be associated with the fracking. That report concluded:
“The monitored concentrations of benzene, one of the major risk driving chemicals, are well within acceptable limits to protect public health, as determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The concentrations of various compounds are comparatively low and are not likely to raise significant health issues of concern”
It’s also important to remember that a number of other major studies have recently found low methane emissions in relation to oil and natural gas development. Several studies spearheaded by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) as well as studies by University of Colorado at Boulder/NOAA, MIT, the University of Maryland, the U.S. Department of Energy, Carnegie Mellon and Cornell University found very low methane leakage rates ranging from 1.2 percent to 1.6 percent, which is far below the threshold (3.2 percent) for natural gas to be substantially beneficial for the climate.
Therefore it’s no surprise that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that fracking and the increased use of natural gas is “an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.”
Source: Energy In Depth