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Battlement Mesa to be site of study on oil, gas health effects

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent

BATTLEMENT MESA, Colo. – Garfield County officials are moving ahead with plans to conduct health studies among the residents of Battlement Mesa, in order to better evaluate any health effects related to oil and gas drilling activities in the neighborhood.

County environmental health director Jim Rada said he has been regularly meeting, talking and exchanging e-mails with residents, researchers, state agencies, industry representatives and others working to get the studies under way.

Rada said he is in touch with national nonprofit foundations that have shown interest in funding a “health impact assessment” that could have ramifications for one company’s plans to drill in a residential area.

The need for the health studies arose out of residents’ concerns about plans by Antero Resources, an oil and gas drilling company, to drill up to 200 wells within the boundaries of Battlement Mesa Planned Unit Development, an unincorporated community near Parachute, in western Colorado.

At various governmental meetings and other gatherings around Garfield County, members of such citizen groups as Battlement Concerned Citizens and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance have expressed fears about the effects of drilling on the health of the residents at Battlement Mesa.

The community is home to about 5,000, many of whom are retirees worried that their health, already fragile, could be compromised if drilling occurs close to their homes.

Industry representatives have downplayed residents’ fears, pointing to a lack of research findings that show any direct correlation between oil and gas development and negative health effects on people living near the wells.

But, according to David Ludlam, the new director of the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the industry is not opposing the idea of the health studies.

“Technological advances pioneered by Piceance Basin operators have drastically reduced impacts across the board in natural gas operations. That’s the good news,” Ludlam told the Post Independent.

“The even better news for Battlement Mesa,” he continued, “is that Antero Resources, in some ways, pioneered the progressive, voluntary community development plan model [for working with communities to address citizens’ concerns]. Combining these facts with proactive leadership from Garfield County and I believe the health impact assessment may further the cause of science and fact based regulatory decisions.”

Recently the Garfield County commissioners agreed that a health study was warranted, and that it could be funded by the county, perhaps using the county’s energy mitigation fund that comes from fees paid by the energy companies themselves.

Among the research entities mentioned in connection with the health-study discussions is CU Denver’s Colorado School of Public Health [CSPH], which in 2008 participated in a study of air quality impacts by the gas and oil industry in Garfield County.

According to published accounts of that study, a group of seven researchers from the CSPH and Colorado State University concluded that there was evidence of an “acute problem with toxic emissions” from natural gas development.

The researchers at the time “called for the implementation of a health impact assessment [HIA] to be completed before oil and gas development near populated areas,” according to published reports.

No HIA has been conducted to date, but Rada said that some of the researchers involved in the 2008 report also may become part of the current studies.

Rada said he is formulating a “two-pronged approach” to the matter, beginning with talks with the Pew Charitable Trusts, based in Pennsylvania, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in New Jersey.

Rada said he planned this week to submit applications for grants for the HIA, which he said would look at existing data and generate a report that the county can use when it considers Antero’s application for a special use permit to drill inside the Battlement Mesa PUD.

Rada said he also plans to take the board of county commissioners up on their offer to pay for a separate “community health study,” which he envisioned as establishing a baseline of health information for the residents and “to see how the health of the community changes over time” in response to the drilling activities.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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