Report: Living near oil and gas wells could increase risk of cancer, other health problems

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DENVER -- A study led by Colorado School of Public Health says people living near oil and gas facilities might be at higher risk of cancer and other diseases.

“People living near these oil and gas wells have the potential for having higher risks of health effects,” said Lisa McKenzie, lead author of the report.

The study found people living near those facilities along Colorado’s northern Front Range might be exposed to hazardous air pollutants, including carcinogens such as benzene.

Researchers found the lifetime cancer risk of those living within 500 feet of a well was eight times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency's upper level risk threshold.

Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health worked with Boulder County Public Health, the University of Colorado, NASA and the University of California Irvine.

They say the health implications include more than cancer.

“Neurological effects, developmental effects and hematological effect,” McKenzie said.

Colorado law requires a new oil and gas well to be 500 feet from a residence and 1,000 feet from high occupancy buildings such as schools and hospitals.

But the study’s lead author questions if those regulations are strong enough to protect people from exposure.  She has questions for the industry and regulators.

“How do they limit or reduce those emissions, and also show that those emissions are reduced?” McKenzie said.

But Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, has a different viewpoint.

“While this study looks at exposures inside 500 feet, it is important to note that Colorado’s oil and gas setback rules actually begin at 500 feet and increase from there," he said.

"The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recently analyzed 10,000 air samples of oil and gas operation at 500 feet or greater and concluded that there is ‘no substantial or moderate evidence for any health effects.’"

McKenzie has participated in other analysis that has been disavowed by state health officials and has even been described as misleading.

Notably, the full analysis of this report is currently locked behind a paywall and is not even publicly available.

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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