CSU study to aid state officials in assessing health risks of oil, gas production

FORT COLLINS — A study led by researchers at Colorado State University in Fort Collins about air-pollutant emissions from oil and gas operations will be used by the state’s department of health and environment as it assesses health risks posed by the industry.

Data from the North Front Range Oil and Gas Air Pollutant Emission and Dispersion Study – and a similar study in Garfield County completed in June 2016 — will be used in a state health-risk assessment, to be completed by summer 2018.

The CSU study was designed to quantify emissions from three specific oil and gas development activities: hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” flowback of liquids after fracking and production operations.

CSU researchers conducted 18 experiments to quantify air emission rates and dispersion of air toxics, ozone precursors and greenhouse gases from each of the three processes.

Overall, the study found that production emissions, which may continue for many years, were found to be lower than the shorter-term fracking and flowback emissions, which last for a few days to a few weeks.

Emissions in the North Front Range were slightly lower than in Garfield County, but contained heavier-weight organic compounds, likely due to differences in the geology between the basins.

Jeffrey Collett, professor and head of CSU’s Department of Atmospheric Science, was the principal investigator for the three-year study that was funded by the state of Colorado. Collett presented his team’s findings Sept. 15 to the Air Quality Control Commission.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will coordinate the health-risk assessment using the data from Collett’s studies, and will contract this work to a third-party consulting company. The department is soliciting formal proposals for the assessment and expects to have a contract in place by December.

“These studies will provide us with critical information to design a detailed and accurate health risk assessment so we can answer questions related to potential health concerns related to oil and gas operations,” Dr. Larry Wolk, CDPHE’s executive director and chief medical officer, said in a prepared statement.