A new report released today by Energy In Depth (EID) aims to insert facts and key information into the policy discussion centered this week around a legislative proposal to restrict oil and gas development in Colorado. The report examines public health data points and highlights analysis conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which show positive health indicator trends and low-risk air sample readings that stand in stark contrast to claims made by activists opposed to the state’s oil and gas industry.

The report is the second of its kind released on the newly launched Energy In Depth Health & Safety platform. The first in the series focused on mortality rates in six Pennsylvania counties with the highest Marcellus Shale development, and found those rates have declined or remained stable since shale development began in the region.

“This report spotlights essential heath information that responds to concerns raised by those that are trying to restrict Colorado’s oil and gas development,” Energy In Depth-Mountain States team lead Rebecca Simons said. “Sadly, many of the accusations being made are by ban-fracking groups with an anti-fossil fuel agenda. This report will allow for a more productive, collaborative discussion.”

On Wednesday, March 7, 2018, the Colorado State Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee is set to hear testimony and vote on legislation known as the “Martinez/Earth Guardian Bill,” authored in the House by State Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton), which aims to make oil and gas operations more difficult in the state.

The bill, HB18-1071, would codify an appeals court ruling in the Martinez vs. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission lawsuit even though it has yet to be fully adjudicated in the Colorado State Supreme Court. The case, though filed in the name of teenager Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, is being backed by a number of national anti-fracking groups. This case, and corresponding legislation, would require oil and gas operators to prove that development does not “adversely impact human health and does not contribute to climate change” as part of the permitting process. This ambiguous language would open the process up to increased litigation and severely delay and/or curtail operations.

The Colorado Supreme Court decided in January to review the case.

During its hearing in the House, activists who testified on behalf of HB18-1071 cited studies that claim oil and natural gas operations are detrimental to public health. But upon further review, these claims hold little merit.

In the newly released report, EID examined health data in Colorado’s top oil and natural gas producing region, Weld County. EID also looked at a variety of recent studies from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, all of which directly refute claims that oil and gas development is a high-risk threat to public health.

Dan Haley, President & CEO, Colorado Oil and Gas Association, welcomed the report, saying:

“This analysis by Energy In Depth, and the tremendous collection of independent health studies they reference, confirms the significant benefit our energy industry provides our home state. Weld County has witnessed significant growth in both population and energy production over the past fifteen years, yet we are also seeing an important drop in the frequency of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory issues. Colorado’s nation-leading regulatory oversight, combined with the innovative work taking place in the field, demonstrates that energy development and healthy living are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the value we provide Coloradans, by keeping energy prices low, stable, and reliable, is a point of pride for COGA, the companies we represent, and the homegrown workforce that makes it possible.”

Tracee Bentley, Executive Director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, noted the economic impact of the Martinez legislation:

“Altering the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s mission for the bidding of keep-it-in-the-ground activists from out-of-state could cost the state tens of millions of dollars in lost tax and royalty revenues as well as slow economic activity generated by the over 300 companies and hundreds of thousands of jobs supported by Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry. Our industry alone contributed more than $31 billion to the state’s economy in 2015. Ignoring the positive impacts that the industry provides throughout the state is a discredit to the workers who live in our communities and the families who depend on these energy resources to heat their homes and fuel their transportation.”

“We urge lawmakers in the Senate to reject this legislation as the underlying premise behind the petitioner’s request for rulemaking is ultimately to persuade the COGCC to ban oil and gas development in Colorado, a result plainly contradicted by state law and policy.”

Peter Moore, Chairman and CEO of Vital for Colorado, a pro-business coalition led by a board that includes the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, Colorado Business Roundtable, Colorado Concern and the Colorado Farm Bureau, explains the Martinez bill puts politics above due-process, saying:

“Make no mistake: Anti-oil and gas groups brought the Martinez lawsuit to end oil and natural gas development in Colorado, not improve the way it’s regulated. The lead plaintiff said it himself back in 2013 when the petition was first filed: ‘I think our chances are really good of getting a statewide moratorium, I mean a statewide ban, on fracking.’

“It’s deeply troubling that a state lawmaker who is running for Attorney General would propose this bill. It circumvents the Colorado Supreme Court, puts the political agenda of anti-oil and gas groups ahead of due process, and dismisses the very real concerns of state-level energy and public health regulators. Those expert regulators are seeking an appeal before the state’s highest court because they want to make permitting decisions based on facts, not the political ideology of ‘ban fracking’ groups.”

Key Findings

Weld County Numbers

  • Despite a growing elderly population that nearly doubled in just 13 years in Weld County, every major health indicator appeared to improve at the same time oil and natural gas production was rapidly expanding across Weld County. This, while the number of productive wells in the county increased nearly 117 percent, from 12,481 by the end of calendar year 2002 to 27,063 by the same time in 2015, according to data compiled by COGCC.
  • According to COGCC, from 2002 to 2015, natural gas production in Weld County increased from 184 million to 552 million cubic feet annually – a three-fold increase. Oil production increased nearly 12.3 times from 8.9 million to 109.3 million barrels per year. Active wells in Weld County account for approximately 43 percent of the state total (up from 38.2 percent in 2006), and the county’s number of active wells nearly outnumbers the next five largest Colorado counties’ aggregate active well count — Garfield, Yuma, La Plata, Las Animas, and Rio Blanco — combined.
  • These findings are consistent with data obtained in other areas of the country. For example, a 2011 analysis examining the effects of natural gas development in Denton County, Tex., concluded that “even as natural gas development expanded significantly in the area over the past several years, key indicators of health improved” across multiple categories studied. A separate analysis found a decline in mortality rates from lower respiratory disease in some of the largest natural gas producing counties in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania.

CDPHE Findings

  • CDPHE scientists have reviewed 12 relevant epidemiological studies covering 27 different health effects in communities near oil and gas operations and found “no substantial or moderate evidence for any health effects.” (CDPHE assessment)
  • CDPHE ranked the majority of recent studies purporting to find a link between oil and natural gas activity and adverse health effects as “low quality, primarily due to limitations of the study designs that make it difficult to establish clear links between exposures to substances emitted directly from oil and gas and the outcomes evaluated.” CDPHE’s review found that “[s]tudies of populations living near oil and gas operations provide limited evidence of the possibility for harmful health effects.”
  • CDPHE’s analysis noted that an individual’s total exposure “may reflect multiple substances from both oil and gas and non-oil and gas sources from indoor and outdoor environments. For example, VOCs [volatile organic compounds] can be emitted from a variety of sources including oil and gas, other industrial operations, vehicle traffic and everyday consumer products such as nail polish, detergents, sealants, aerosol antiperspirants and deodorants.”
  • A CDPHE report that analyzed more than 10,000 air samples in the areas of the state where “substantial” oil and natural gas operations occurred found that levels of emissions were “safe,” even for sensitive populations. “Based on currently available air monitoring data, the risk of harmful health effects is low for residents living [near] (sic) oil and gas operations,” with the CDPHE authors concluding that “[a]t this time, results from exposure and health effect studies do not indicate the need for immediate public health action.”