This week the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released a long-delayed report analyzing potential health impacts of oil and natural gas operations. CDPHE’s latest report builds on research that the agency has been conducting since 2015 and provides further insight into its 2017 assessment that found “low risk of harmful health effects.”

The Polis Administration, “Keep It In The Ground” activists and even the Denver Post were quick to position the report as a means to prompt a new round of regulatory actions:

This misdirection was quickly dismissed by the bulk of Colorado’s media, because at the end of the day, while new data is always welcome, there honestly isn’t much new in the report. As a summary of the report explains:

“The study is not based on actual health impacts people have reported from oil and gas operations or on measured concentrations in the air surrounding the well pad.”

In fact, out of 5,000 samples, CDPHE “has not measured concentrations above what we expect would cause short- or long-term health impacts.”

Headlines Over Facts

The CDPHE has released several reports over the last few years, including the 2017 assessment, a 2018 report that similarly assessed volatile organic compounds near oil and natural gas well sites, and an analysis of health research earlier this year in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Not once were any press conferences held for this research, nor were any of these reports given to media ahead of publication. Yet, that’s exactly what occurred this time around: CDPHE and the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission held a press conference to introduce the report and a copy was leaked to the Denver Post’s Bruce Finley.

Finley’s article was the first media report out of the gate – publishing prior to the conclusion of the press conference – and had a headline warning Coloradans that the report said fracking causes an increased risk of nosebleeds and headaches. This headline, and much of the text, was taken completely out-of-context from what the report actually found: these infrequent, short-term health risks are only likely in worst-case scenarios and under extreme and specific circumstances.

Reporters whose previous coverage has been biased against the oil and natural gas industry, were quick to echo Finley’s claims:

One reporter even called it a bombshell:

Colorado’s Mainstream Media Doesn’t Take the Bait

Other reporters were quick to call out the administration for its misdirection from the report’s actual findings. This was not a bombshell report and showed no connection between production and serious health risks.

Despite the rhetoric that has already circulated around CDPHE’s latest report, and by the agency’s own words, “the study does not definitively dictate a setback that is protective of public health.” What it does do is build on the body of research the state has spent years putting together.

Colorado has some of the strictest regulations in the country, and with the overhaul that has begun following the passage of SB 181, that won’t change. The state’s oil and natural gas industry continues to work with regulators and various stakeholders to develop regulations that are reasonable and enforceable, enabling Coloradans to produce an abundance of energy, while protecting the health of residents and the environment.

*UPDATE* The Denver post changed their headline from “Colorado oil and gas study finds elevated risk of nosebleeds, headaches, dizziness for residents near fracking sites” to “Colorado to tighten oversight of oil and gas sites near homes in wake of study finding possible short-term health effects” within six hours of the original publication after the industry and other reporters called out its misdirection.