Will drilling pollution reach Vail? | AspenTimes.com

Will drilling pollution reach Vail?

Matt Terrell
Eagle County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” The oil and gas rigs might be an hour or two away from Vail, but distance doesn’t mean much to pollution.

In the past 10 years, Garfield County has become a hot spot for oil and natural gas drilling. It’s easy to see the environmental impacts up close, but effects could someday be seen in Eagle County, said Dr. Theo Colborn, a nationally recognized environmental health analyst. She’ll be speaking about these impacts June 27 at the Avon Library as part of the Eagle River Watershed Council’s Waterwise Wednesdays.

Her main concern is the vast array of chemicals used in oil and gas drilling, many of which are known to attack the skin, nerves, lungs and reproductive systems. Rashes, blackouts, coughing, bloody noses, sinus infections, burning eyes and asthma are just some of the documented effects.

At just about every step of the drilling process, chemicals can make their way into waterways and even be carried through the air, said Dr. Mary Bachran, an environmental health analyst. That kind of pollution can have a horrible effect on the environment, even weakening trees and making them more susceptible to bark beetles, she said.

“When the wind comes from the west, it’s going to hit those mountains in Vail,” Colborn said.

And then we have the mystery chemicals, the ones researchers and the public just don’t know enough about, chemicals that haven’t been identified or tested for environmental and health impacts.

Right now, regulations are pretty lax on how much testing needs to be done on chemicals. Most of them haven’t been tested for long term exposure, delayed effects or impacts to an area’s ecology.

“Our government has failed in testing chemicals for their safety,” Colborn said. “We need full disclosure.”

Represenatives from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Calpine Natural Gas and Noble Energy couldn’t be reached by press time.

Colborn works with a nonprofit group called TEDX, or The Endocrine Disruption Exchange. She’d like to see regulations requiring oil and gas companies to disclose the complete make up of the chemicals they use and how much they use at each drilling site.

Ray Merry, environmental health director for Eagle County, said several studies are being conducted throughout the state to discover the true impact of the oil and gas industry on environment and health. While Eagle County isn’t a drilling spot, he knows it’s something we’ll all have to deal with.

“We haven’t seen visible impacts yet, but we’ve realized impacts on a worldwide scale before ” we’ve seen impacts from storms that occur overseas,” Merry said. “So we know the impacts won’t stay on the Western Slope.”

Aside from the pollution that can come with the oil and gas industry, there are environmental impacts that can come with more people moving to the area because of new jobs and industry.

“We can’t just look at the effects of oil and gas, but development in general, the impacts of the small communities that pop up,” Merry said.

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