A recent multiyear scientific study conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) concluded that people living within 2,000 feet of a fracing site could be at risk from exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOC), including benzene used in the flowback stage of the fracing process. The study could result in increased scrutiny by regulators of drilling plans that occur within 2,000 feet of a home, as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) now plans to monitor air emissions near homes according to COGCC Director Jeff Robbins.
“This study is the first of its kind because it used actual emissions data to model potential exposure and health risks,” said CDPHE environmental programs director John Putnam. “While we pursue further research, we won’t delay enacting stricter emissions standards for chemicals that cause human effects, ozone pollution and climate change. This study reinforces what we already know: We need to minimize emissions from oil and gas sources.
As part of the study, researchers from Colorado State University collected data on chemical emissions from VOCs. Results showed that while the majority of the exposures were deemed safe, some chemicals, including benzene, exceeded recommended levels by up to 10 times during “flowback activities.”
This research is also expected to affect state policy as current setback rules allow for 500-foot buffer zones. Last November, Colorado voters rejected a ballot initiative that among other things would have imposed a 2,500-foot buffer zone between homes and well sites.
The study is a continuation of a 2017 assessment that reviewed health data on 27 people living near oil and gas operations. Those results did not show consistent negative health effects from the exposure.
Industry groups criticized the findings, noting that the study, which based conclusions on the measuring of emissions as well as computer modeling, did not find a basis for predicting risks to long-term health.
Colorado Petroleum Council director Lynn Granger stressed in a statement that the health and safety of workers and residents in production areas are top priorities for the industry.
“As an industry, we rely on data, facts and science and look forward to working with CDPHE and the COGCC on actual air monitoring in the future, which is what should be used when developing policy and regulations,” Granger said.
“PESA looks forward to working with CDPHE and the COGCC and other relevant state agencies as they develop regulations to ensure that the oil and gas industry continues to operate safely within the State,” said PESA VP Government Affairs Tim Tarpley.
For more information about state government affairs and issues affecting the industry in Colorado, contact PESA Vice President Government Affairs Tim Tarpley.