Drilling hazards disputed on West Slope | VailDaily.com

Drilling hazards disputed on West Slope

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” An environmental organization says state data about oil and gas company wastewater ponds in western Colorado shows the ponds are “posing greater risks to human health than previously thought.”

Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, a Denver-based nonprofit, said data collected by the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division shows wastewater evaporation ponds in places such as Garfield County are “major sources of air pollution and pose greater threats to human health than previously reported,” the group said in a statement.

“Oil and gas evaporation ponds are putting communities in western Colorado at an ever-increasing risk of illness,” said Jeremy Nichols, director of the organization, in a prepared statement. “This latest data confirms what many have believed from the start: that evaporation ponds are major sources of toxic air pollution.”

The data was gathered after violations of clean air laws were reported at several evaporation ponds, according to the group.

Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, citing the state’s data, said Williams Production RMT reported that as much as 268 tons of hydrocarbons per year were released at its Grand Valley Facility in Garfield County ” or nearly 10 times the amount previously thought.

The group also said that Williams’ Rulison facility released 88 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants.

Rick Matar, an air quality practice manager for Williams, scoffed at Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action’s interpretation of the data. “Our emissions are much, much lower,” Matar said. “(The numbers) are ridiculously overstated. The way they were obtained was not scientific. These numbers are misleading at best.”

The group said EnCana Oil and Gas (USA) erroneously reported its emissions from four ponds in Garfield County and that the company’s measurements had been rejected by the Air Pollution Control Division.

“We have been looking at various technologies to reduce the amount of VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions coming from those ponds,” said Doug Hock, a spokesman for EnCana. “It has been something we have been doing in cooperation with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.”

Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action said Air Pollution Control Division data shows oil and gas operations in Garfield County release about 200 tons of benzene annually into the air ” which is about 70 percent of all benzene emissions in the county.

“This is more than all other sources, including cars and trucks, combined,” the group said in its statement.

A recent Garfield County Ambient Air Quality Study, which cost the county about $325,000 and was released in December, found no violations of federal air quality standards and that the levels of air pollutants in the area were “generally very low.”

But a preliminary health risk assessment with the study said some oil and gas sites in the area appear “to present significantly higher cancer risk than urban and rural” areas. It also said there were potential impacts from benzene, a carcinogen, across oil and gas development areas of the county.

Support Local Journalism