CU study: Coloradans near oil and gas wells may face greater cancer risk

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BOULDER, Colo. — Coloradans living near oil and gas facilities may have a higher risk of getting cancer and other diseases according to a new study from the University of Colorado.

Researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health, NASA, Boulder County Public Health and other organizations worked on the study. It found people living near oil and gas sites in the northern portion of Colorado’s Front Range are often exposed to dangerous levels of air pollutants and carcinogens.

The report sampled air pollutant concentrations near oil and gas facilities. It found the lifetime cancer risk of those living within 500 feet of a well eight times higher than the maximum level considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The study monitored chemicals like benzene, a carcinogen produced by wells also known as a non-methane hydrocarbon.

“Our results suggest that Colorado’s current regulations that specify a 500-foot distance between a newly drilled oil and gas well and an existing home may not protect people from exposures to hazardous air pollutants that could impact their health,” said the study’s lead author Lisa McKenzie, PhD, MPH, of the Colorado School of Public Health. She added that thousands of Coloradans live closer than 500 feet from a well.

An estimated 356,000 people living in the northern Front Range are within one mile of an active oil and gas site, according to the report.

“The results underscore the importance of having policies that require effective monitoring and reducing emissions from oil and gas facilities, particularly those near homes, schools, and recreation areas,” said Pam Milmoe, Boulder County Public Health’s air quality program coordinator.

Colorado requires new wells to be built 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from high-occupancy buildings like hospitals and schools, according to the report.

Tracee Bentley, the executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute, issued the following statement:

“Time and again, Lisa McKenzie, an assistant research professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, presents the public with activist research that seeks to generate soundbite headlines from unvalidated conclusions, outdated assumptions and/or flawed science. Frequently, her studies are challenged by research professionals dedicated to adherence to the facts.”

This study is directly contradicted by a recent Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment study that showed there is no need for public health action. Ms. McKenzie’s data is based on older data from 2014 and relies, in part, on old and limited data that the Environmental Protection Agency has not accepted. New innovations and initiatives by industry as well as new industry-backed state regulations have dramatically lowered emissions in the interim. Those emissions and risks will continue to decline in the future.”

Protecting the health and safety of our workers, the communities where we operate, and the environment is a core value for our industry.

We put that in practice every day by employing 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. Even as the US has become the world’s largest producer of natural gas and oil, our nation has seen dramatic drops in air emissions nationwide – some 73% since 1970 – and U.S. CO2 emissions today are at 25-year lows due to greater natural gas use.

We invest billions on implementing new technologies, creating cleaner fuels and funding ongoing environmental initiatives annually to ensure that public policy decisions are based on independent facts, not advocates looking for a headline. Making energy decisions based on flawed science will negatively impact future generations.”



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