For Public Health, Safe Operations in Colorado – And Everywhere
Posted October 18, 2019
There’s nothing more important to our industry than protecting health and safety – of our skilled workers and the communities where they are engaged in supplying Americans with affordable energy for every aspect of modern life and economic well-being.
As energy companies, we know that maintaining the public’s trust and the permission to operate hinge on our ability to work safely and responsibly – caring for the environment, reducing our footprint and continually improving technologies and operations to reduce emissions.
This is the context as we consider a new report on the potential public health effects of natural gas and oil operations by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), using 2015 data to model impacts.
It follows a good deal of CDPHE analysis in recent years, detailed below, that generally supports the view that existing state and federal regulations and industry best practices do indeed protect public health and safety. Lynn Granger, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, said protecting health and safety is industry’s top priority:
“We put that in practice every day by employing thousands of scientists and engineers that are innovating, and safely producing, refining and delivering affordable energy to Americans in cleaner ways, with a smaller footprint and through the safest methods – and it’s working.”
Granger said the new report, compiled by ICF, will be evaluated yet pointed to a 2017 CDPHE publication that concluded that based on current requirements for buffer areas around natural gas and oil operations there was no immediate need for a public health response. That publication reflected more than 10,000 actual air measurements.
The new ICF report uses modeled exposures instead of measured air quality data, which Granger said can introduce uncertainties that may result in “erroneous estimates of risk for a population.” Granger:
“As an industry we rely on data, facts and science and look forward to working with CDPHE and the COGCC (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) on actual air monitoring in the future, which is what should be used when developing policy and regulations.”
Again, research and analysis are vitally important so that we can continue to safely develop the natural gas and oil that drives the modern U.S. economy, creates jobs and spreads opportunity across the nation. The U.S. energy revolution has made our country stronger, more secure and prosperous. The increased use of natural gas in fueling electricity generation is the chief reason U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from that sector are at their lowest levels in a generation.
In Colorado, the country’s fifth-leading oil producer and No. 6 natural gas producer, development has occurred with industry proactively participating within a robust regulatory regime to deploy new technologies to improve operations – again, to better protect workers, communities and the environment while also delivering the energy the state and country count on every day.
Below, a rundown of key CDPHE reports and studies since 2016:
Longmont (Dec. 20, 2018-Jan. 10, 2019)
Analysis: A total of 23 substances were evaluated in this preliminary assessment near Rinn Valley Oil and Gas sites. The measured air concentrations of each VOC was below short-term or long-term health guideline values. Benzene was the only VOC with a short-term hazard quotient slightly above 0.1, which is 10 times less than the health guideline value.
Broomfield (June-September 2019)
Analysis: The levels of VOCs measured near the Livingston Oil and Gas site were below what could be expected to cause short- and long-term health effects that are not cancer.
Although below health guideline values, average VOCs were higher during drilling than before drilling started.
Three of the VOCs measured in the samples, benzene, ethylbenzene, and isoprene, may cause cancer. But breathing the levels of these VOCs in the amounts measured at Livingston does not increase the risk of cancer above what is considered “acceptable” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Dolores/Montezuma counties (Sept. 8, 2016)
Analysis: Although data from near the Doe Canyon, Cow Canyon and Yellowjacket carbon dioxide facilities are limited, some general comments can be made: All VOCs detected in the air sample collected near the Yellowjacket facility during a time when there was a noticeable odor were below short- and long-term health guideline values. Hydrogen sulfide was not detected in any samples near the three facilities.
Weld County (January 2018)
Analysis: Of the 60 substances analyzed near the DCP-Mewbourn Oil and Gas Processing Facility, the results indicated that all air concentrations of individual and combined VOCs were below short- and long-term health-based reference values and approximately the same as the average air concentrations along the Front Range. Based on the results from this preliminary air sampling investigation, there appears to be a low risk for harmful health effects due to exposures from VOCs.
Weld County (September 2018)
Analysis: All air concentrations of the individual and combined six priority VOCs near the Dittmer Oil and Gas site were below short- and long- term health guideline values and are, therefore, unlikely to cause non-cancer health effects. The excess cancer risk estimate for benzene was 2.3 in 1 million, which is below the midpoint of EPA’s target cancer risk range.
Weld County (July-November 2017)
Analysis: All air concentrations of individual and combined VOCs near the Pratt Oil and Gas site in Erie were below short and long-term health guideline values. Further:
- Residents reported they had experienced physical symptoms related to odors from the site. We found that a few of these VOCs were measured in the range that might be noticeable as an odor, however, these measured levels were not found at high enough levels to cause long-term health effects.
- Although the air measurements identified a large number of VOCs related to oil and gas emissions, there may be other VOCs that were not measured that may contribute to the respiratory irritation and odor concerns reported by residents.
Weld County (February 2017)
Analysis: This screening level health risk evaluation from the inhalation of VOCs in ambient air, in response to health concerns related to the Triple Creek Oil and Gas site found that the results for the other 59 substances analyzed suggest a low risk of short-term and long-term health effects during the time when odor and/or health symptoms were occurring.
Weld County (August 2018)
Analysis: The levels of VOCs measured during this air sampling investigation, following up on health concerns in Erie, are unlikely to cause non-cancer health effects or increased cancer risks and were consistent with previous sampling.
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and six grandchildren.
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