From the Denver Post:
New report provides facts to activist health concerns on oil and gas developments
This week, the Colorado State Senate Agriculture Committee will vote on a bill from Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, which would delay and possibly curtail energy production, leading to a reduction in state and local revenues. The bill, House Bill 1071, would codify an appeals court ruling in the Martinez vs. Colo. Oil & Gas Conservation Commission case, even though the case has yet to be heard by the State Supreme Court. It’s the latest move in a campaign aimed at shutting down Colorado’s oil and gas operations.
Last month, activists testified on the bill’s behalf during a hearing in the House Health, Insurance & Environment Committee. Many expressed health concerns as the major reason for supporting the bill, asserting that scientific studies suggest a link between illness and oil and gas operations. The problem is, the studies they cite have major limitations and their “findings” have been questioned by state health officials.
In some cases, as in the often-cited recent birth-weight study from Pennsylvania (which was partially funded by an environmental group), the authors themselves admitted limitations with their research and conceded the outcomes may have had nothing to do with fracking. In another instance, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) epidemiologist Mike Van Dyke said this of the often-cited leukemia study by University of Colorado professor and researcher Lisa McKenzie, “So this is just research that suggests more research needs to be done, not research that definitively links oil and gas exposure to cancers in this age group.”
That reality doesn’t stop activists from using these studies to argue that energy production is somehow a pernicious threat to public health.
Energy In Depth (EID) — a research and educational platform of the Independent Petroleum Association of America — is releasing a report that takes a deep dive into data compiled by the CDPHE to check the activists’ claims. In short, the state’s own health department has researched the issue at length, and has found no link between oil and gas operations and adverse health effects.
First, EID looked at heath indicators in Weld County, home to the vast majority of Colorado’s oil and gas activity. Despite an active well count that has doubled since 2002, a three-fold increase in natural gas production and a 12-fold increase in oil production, death rates for cancer, respiratory illness and heart disease dropped by 1.9 percent, 9.1 percent and 21.4 percent respectively over that time-frame. As Bill Jerke, executive director of Fostering Unity and Energizing Leadership Colorado, put it in 2016, “We’ve had at least 10,000 wells or more in Weld County for about 30 years or more. …If it was going to be a problem, it should have shown up long ago, but it hasn’t.”
EID also looked at a CDPHE health assessment study released early last year. Scientists studied more than 10,000 air samples in areas with “substantial” oil and gas operations. They tested for 62 substances and found that, “All measured air concentrations of were below short-and long-term ‘safe’ levels of exposure for non-cancer health effects, even for sensitive populations.” Essentially, no readings exceeded the conservatively set benchmark deemed “safe” for the public.
Secondly, CDPHE reviewed 12 existing studies that evaluated 27 health effects associated with oil and gas operations — including McKenzie’s leukemia study; the department found “no substantial or moderate evidence for any health effects.” The authors ranked a majority of the findings “low quality, primarily due to limitations of the study designs that make it difficult to establish clear links between exposures to substances emitted directly from oil and gas and the outcomes evaluated.”
As CDPHE director Larry Wolk has said, “There’s no reason to believe that there is a causal relationship between oil and gas operations and chronic diseases or cancers.”
The oil and gas industry has long been an integral part of our state’s economic story, and these’s clear bipartisan support for the industry, including leaders like Democrats Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet, and Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican. The health and safety of Coloradans should remain the paramount consideration for our lawmakers — but let’s make sure our laws and policy reflect the facts and data, and not unsubstantiated claims.
Rebecca Simons is the field director for Energy In Depth-Mountain States based in Denver.