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New study doesn’t settle question of whether living near oil and gas sites always poses a health risk

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DENVER -- The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment published a study on Thursday showing a rare health risk of living near oil and gas development in Colorado when certain conditions are met.

The study is not based on what Coloradans have reported but instead on estimates on worst-case conditions such as windy days.

The study does not take into account people who live near multiple wells but only one well.

The study showed an elevated health risk of short-term health effects when a Coloradan is within 2,000 feet of a well on a high-risk day featuring high-risk conditions.

A high-risk day is defined as when the energy operator is performing certain functions, such as flowback.

Weather conditions also play a role such as a windy day.

Colorado health officials used the example of someone running near a well site when flowback is being conducted.

The study showed a greater health risk on the Front Range as opposed to the Western Slope.

Coloradans, according to the study,  are at most risk for exposure to chemicals, such as benzene, if they are within that range.

Side effects include headaches, dizziness and respiratory, eye and skin irritation. The study did not see an elevated risk of cancer.

The study cost taxpayers $600,000 and was conducted by ICF International, an environmental and health consulting company.

"I think the question is should people be worried --  I think the take away from this study confirms prior research, as well as our finding out in the field, that there is not an enhanced level of cancer but there is a quite infrequent risk of short term effects like dizziness, headaches and nosebleeds," said John Putnam with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

In response to the study, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission announced it will conduct more scrutiny of well permits within 2,000 feet of a home.

"Our response is threefold and includes a new plan for permit review, a new plan for testing, and then a plan to use the information from the testing for future regulation and rulemakings," COGCC director Jeff Robbins said.

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