Garfield County to contract for air-quality study
June 21, 2011
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Colorado School of Public Health will go ahead with the second phase of its work concerning natural gas drilling health impacts in Garfield County, even though the first phase of the work was not completed.
This second phase of the contract involves work designing a recommended approach to monitoring air-quality impacts that may result from gas drilling activities near residential areas.
The Garfield Board of County Commissioners on Monday voted unanimously to keep working with a team of researchers from the school of public health, continuing a contract that started in 2010 with the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) of gas drilling plans in Battlement Mesa.
Antero Resources is expected soon to apply for permits to drill up to 200 gas wells from nine drilling platforms in the community. Already, Antero and other companies have drilling operations underway in the area surrounding Battlement Mesa.
The HIA, which gathered data from previously existing studies and other sources of information, was left incomplete earlier this year when commissioners concluded the assessment was going on too long and costing too much. The county spent roughly $250,000 on the HIA.
In the second phase of the contract, the school’s faculty and researchers will be designing an air-quality monitoring study for the community at a cost of approximately $67,000.
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As part of the contract, the county states it may or may not undertake a study recommended by the school of public health, and that it will be up to the county to decide whether to make the school’s work public or not.
Still, commissioners did not give its approval without a bit of debate, some of which focused on the uncompleted HIA.
“How are you going to work with the gas companies?” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky asked Roxanne Witter, the lead professor and researcher for the HIA and for the second phase.
“Every time I read something anti-industry … it usually has your name associated with it,” Jankovsky continued. “The Colorado School of Public Health has lost a lot of footing with the oil and gas industry. The industry feels that you’re biased, and as a scientific group, you can’t be biased.”
Witter did not agree with Jankovsky’s reading of things, however.
“I don’t think that we’re biased, and I don’t think that our report was biased,” she said.
Her remarks were backed up by Jim Rada, Garfield County’s environmental health director.
Rada told commissioners that he had talked with industry representatives about the second phase, specifically to a spokesman from Williams Production, and explained that industry cooperation would be needed.
“They agreed, and COGA (Colorado Oil and Gas Association) agreed,” Rada told commissioners. “If we need to mend fences, I hope I can help in doing that.”
Rada also said there should be no chance of bias affecting the air-quality monitoring program, which will be the main part of the study being designed by the School of Public Health.
“The scope of work is to provide some information that does not exist at this point,” explained Witter at one point.
Jankovsky noted that Antero’s expected application to drill in Battlement Mesa “may be coming soon,” and questioned whether monitoring based on a study designed by the school of public health could be done in time.
Witter said that either way, the study could prove useful.
If the study were completed before the drilling began, she said, it would provide a good baseline of air quality data for later analysis.
If the drilling starts before a study can be done, a study conducted concurrently with the drilling can be used to tell Antero how well its air pollution mitigation measures are working.
After the debate had wound down, commissioners voted unanimously to go ahead with phase two of the contract.