Health effects of drilling to be studied
RIFLE – Whether natural-gas development is sickening people in neighboring Garfield County will be the subject of a $65,000 study approved this week. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission gave its consent after hearing further complaints from residents about illnesses they say have resulted from energy-industry activity. County oil and gas auditor Doug Dennison cited those complaints as he described the purpose of the study.”I think from what you’ve heard this morning, it’s probably pretty timely,” Dennison told the oil and gas commission, which held its July meeting in Rifle Monday in part to make it easier for area residents to discuss concerns about the county’s booming natural-gas industry.Already this year, 650 gas-drilling permits have been issued in Garfield County, compared to about 800 for all of last year, oil and gas commission director Brian Macke said. Statewide, permits could total 3,900 to 4,000 for the year, well in excess of last year’s record 2,917. So far, Garfield County is accounting for about a third of permits statewide.
With that drilling has come an increasing number of residents who say they are paying a physical price for the county’s energy boom. Susan Haire, who lives on Morrisania Mesa near Battlement Mesa, said she has become ill this year since doing irrigation work near a Williams Production gas well. She has dealt with itchy eyes and an itchy face, coughing, inflammed nerves in her legs that has hindered her ability to walk and other symptoms, many of which have occurred only when she has been near the well, she said.On June 24 she experienced an “extreme exposure” to gases at the well, and suffered a blinding headache, she said. “I don’t know what happened at that well,” she said. “All I know is how sick I am,” she said.The state already is looking at health problems Elizabeth Mobaldi said she suffered after a well was drilled in 1997 less than 1,000 feet from where she lived on County Road 320 west of Rifle. She told the oil and gas commission she dealt for years with odors from the well.
Her water well also was affected by contamination when the water well at the Goad residence a half-mile away “blew up” because of gas drilling, she said.Mobaldi said she has endured severe burning and itching skin, painful joints, blisters, difficulty walking, weight loss, headaches and vision loss. She eventually had a tumor on her pituitary gland removed, and it later returned and was treated with radiation.”We lived in that house for over 10 years and loved it and wanted to stay there, but 10 months ago we had to leave because we felt the air and water were causing my illnesses,” she said.Mobaldi said her health has improved since she moved to Grand Junction.
Jaime Adkins, northwest Colorado area engineer for the oil and gas commission, said the state hasn’t been able to find any evidence of the gas well contaminating Mobaldi’s well water. The state also found no connection between the problem at the Goad property and the Mobaldi well, he said. He said he also has been unable to smell the odors that concern Mobaldi.Saccomanno Research Institute, part of St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, will conduct the health study. Teresa Coons, senior scientist for the institute, said it’s rare to be able to link a health condition with a single cause. However, it’s possible to establish links when looking at thousands of cases of illness, she said.Vail, Colorado