CSU study may help answer GarCo health questions around oil and gas activity

Alex Zorn
Citizen Telegram

An extensive multi-year study completed in 2013 attempted to better understand the extent of air emissions from natural gas extraction activities, looking at hydrocarbon emission rates at Garfield County oil and gas operations compared with research done on the northern Front Range.

One of the lead researchers on the project, Colorado State University’s Arsineh Hecobian, presented an overview of the industry and county government-funded study during Thursday’s Garfield County Energy Advisory Board meeting in Rifle.

The study’s emission collection was done at well drilling and completion sites operated by Encana Corporation, WPX Energy and Ursa Resources Group in Garfield County and only looked at rates during extraction, not production. Researchers completed 21 successful experiments.

Researchers collected emissions from three activities during new well development: drilling, hydraulic fracking and flowback.

According to the study, flowback operations, which are the last chain of well completion, produced higher rates of emission of many volatile organic compounds and methane than drilling or hydraulic fracking. Methane was the most abundant compound present in the findings.

During fracking and flowback, Garfield County methane emissions (2.8 grams per second and 40 grams per second) came back higher than the northern Front Range emissions (0.051 grams per second and 2.8 grams per second).

The study also showed that Front Range emissions of ethane, benzene and propane are lower than Garfield County during fracking.

Hecobian admitted the fact that the activity in Garfield County is heavily focused on natural gas, whereas the Front Range is more focused on oil, could be a factor in the hydrocarbon emission numbers.

She explained that while the study only looked at emission rates, the robust data set researchers collected could be used for concentration findings in future studies.

“I want to know when I’m so far away from the site, how much benzene am I breathing and how is that affecting me,” she explained.

In fact, the Colorado Department Public Health and Environment took the emission data from the CSU studies and will combine it with local meteorology and terrain to map concentration fields to calculate potential health risk by distance and by operation in a study set to be released in 2018.

“The decision was to have a robust data set so that when they do the health assessment they will really know what they are looking at, so we are all waiting to see this report,” said Kirby Wynn, Garfield County oil and gas liaison.

“The way that Garfield County and industry approached this was really innovative and proactive,” Hecobian said. “Now that we have this data, we can look at health effects.”


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