Garfield County pledges to fund CSU air study
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Garfield County commissioners have agreed to provide up to $1 million in county oil and gas mitigation funds to help pay for a first-of-its-kind academic study of air emissions from natural gas operations in the county.
The three-year, $1.76 million study will be spearheaded by Colorado State University, in conjunction with the private research firm Air Resource Specialists.
Several oil and gas companies operating in Garfield County have pledged to provide another $800,000 to complete the study.
The study is designed to collect data and characterize emissions in the vicinity of well sites through the various phases of development, including drilling, hydraulic fracturing and blowback.
Several different chemicals can be released into the atmosphere during the different phases of development, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes and other volatile hydrocarbons.
In order to evaluate potential impacts of air emissions from natural gas development in the region, it is first necessary to determine the quantity and composition of emissions from the various phases of well development,” CSU professor Jeffry L. Collett Jr., a noted expert in atmospheric chemistry and air quality, said in a written presentation to Garfield County commissioners on Monday.
While the study will not address air quality impacts and potential health impacts to humans living near gas wells, it will provide the basis for those types of assessments to follow, Collett said.
A comprehensive air quality monitoring program was one of the recommendations of the county’s earlier Battlement Mesa Health Impact Assessment. That study, which was being done by the Colorado School of Public Health, was aborted by the commissioners last year before a final report was issued.
“This is one of the items identified in the HIA that we need to continue to study,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said in support of funding the CSU study. “We felt like we could mitigate some of the other items that came up in the HIA, but the one area where we didn’t have a lot of data was in air quality.
“I believe it is important, with or without industry support, that we need to move forward on this,” he said.
Commissioner John Martin said it’s an appropriate use of the county’s oil and gas mitigation reserve funds.
“We’re not out to manipulate the political issues [around oil and gas development] but to get the facts out there,” Martin said. “These are the kind of things we need to find out and to share with the public.”
The CSU study will be in addition to the Garfield County health department’s own air quality monitoring, which is broader in scope and not focused exclusively on well pad emissions.
An advisory panel will weigh in on the CSU research team’s work along the way, and regular progress reports will be given to the county commissioners, Collett said.
The university has referred to the effort as a “nonpartisan scientific study.”
Joining Collett in heading up the study will be Jay Ham, a professor in CSU’s department of soil and crop sciences, and Air Resource Specialists President Joe Adlhoch and project manager Mark Tigges.
The advisory panel includes air quality experts from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, industry scientists and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
CSU graduate students and postdoctoral researchers are also expected to assist with the study.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funding is also possible, which could bring more resources to the project, Collett said. However, the EPA is not financially involved at this point, he said.
The study will involve a combination of mobile and fixed data collection stations. Canister samplers will be positioned both upwind of well sites, to collect air samples coming into the area, and downwind to collect air samples leaving the area, Collett explained.
In order to protect the integrity of the study, Collett said, data will not be released prior to the study’s completion in 2015. However, if any dangerous levels are detected through the process, that information would be made public, he said.
“This is something that we have wanted, and that the citizens want,” Garfield Commissioner Mike Samson said. “We’re making history here, by doing something that’s never been done before.”
Dorothea Farris of Carbondale, speaking on behalf of the Thompson Divide Coalition, praised the county’s support of the air study.
“We are pleased that you are doing this, and admire what the county is doing to move this forward,” Farris said. “We are attempting to preserve an area that we feel to be inappropriate for natural gas development, and one of our concerns is air quality.”
The Thompson Divide Coalition is working to prevent or limit natural gas development on public lands in the area located to the west and southwest of Carbondale.
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