If Colorado Oil and Gas Bill is About Health and Safety, Why Not Wait for the State’s Health and Safety Report?
Back in 2014, then-Congressman Jared Polis and then-Governor John Hickenlooper brokered a compromise that would lead to a blue-ribbon task force on oil and gas in Colorado. The panel came away with several recommendations, one being the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) conduct oil and gas health assessments. The first of the health reports was published in early 2017. A follow-up report was scheduled for 2018 but was delayed.
As it turns out, the long-overdue 2018 health report is due any day, as our Western Wire team reported. Which begs the question: If SB 181, a comprehensive overhaul of oil and gas regulations, is needed to address health and safety, shouldn’t we have the state’s report in hand—from the state’s top medical officers and air quality technicians—to make a truly informed decision?
Members of the state legislature should ask CDPHE Director Jill Ryan that question. But she has yet to be called to testify on the bill. Which is odd given that the directors of the Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission have testified on the bill. To be fair, the director of the Air Pollution Control Division Director for CDPHE, Garry Kaufman testified, but his initial comments probably came as a surprise to supporters.
Speaking before the Senate Finance hearing last Thursday, Kaufman told the committee, “I do want to very briefly maybe address a little bit of the broader implications, because we have within my division and my commission have a long history of adopting air quality control requirements for industry. I’ve been personally working at it for almost 15 years and during that time we’ve adopted what we believe is the most rigorous ever air quality requirements in the country.”
Senate Democrats and allied groups have been hitting the state for not updating health and safety laws for the past 50 years, which contradicts Kaufman’s own record as a hold-over from the Hickenlooper administration. Statements like Kaufman’s may be the reason why the head of CDPHE or the report is not being released: they would run counter to the statements of supporters of the bill.
“All measured air concentrations were below short- and long-term ‘safe’ levels of exposure for non-cancer health effects, even for sensitive populations,” CDPHE wrote in its 2017 health assessment. “Overall, available air monitoring data suggest low risk of harmful health effects from combined exposure to all substances,” the authors added.
Our Western Wire reporting shows that additional health reports made by the agency are consistent with the 2017 report. “Continued citizen reporting of health concerns to the CDPHE Oil and Gas Health Information and Response Program to monitor for trends in health effects that may be related to exposure,” CDPHE authors wrote in 2017, would result in subsequent “site-specific exposure investigations.”
Those reports are already publicly available.
OGHIR field reports like the one from April 2018 revealed results similar to the other nine investigations, most of which have centered on Weld County, the state’s top oil and gas producing county. In these investigations, CDPHE’s top officials repeatedly found that measurements of air concentrations for “60 substances analyzed… were below short- and long-term health based reference values and approximately the same as the average air concentrations along the Front Range.”
Their conclusions were consistent.
“Based on the results from this preliminary air sampling investigation,” the OGHIR authors wrote, “there appears to be a low risk for harmful health effects due to exposures from VOCs.”
Given the significance of investigations already undertaken and information that the State of Colorado has collected and published over the past several years to the debate, our Western Wire team filed an open record request with CDPHE about the pending health assessment. The agreed upon request was set in motion last Monday and expected to take approximately 25 hours to conduct.
The public would benefit if the report is released and all the facts are known before the Senate votes on the bill. CDPHE promised that “the next CDPHE health risk assessment to be available in peer review publications by end of first quarter (March) 2019.” But the bill sponsors appear inclined to get hold a vote before this report is revealed.
That leaves us with the very simple question: Is the unreleased health report the actual reason why the Colorado Senate majority is rushing this bill at an unprecedented rate?