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SPONSORED CONTENT: Studies and data confirm “no evidence” of health problems caused by oil and gas development

Author: Tim Peters - October 11, 2017 - Updated: October 11, 2017


In its first comprehensive review of research on potential health effects, the Colorado health department found no conclusive evidence that oil and natural gas development in nearby communities poses any significant public health risk.

The study comports with similar research conducted within the state and around the country.

The report, commissioned by a task force formed by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, analyzed health risks from certain substances emitted from oil and gas operations and reviewed multiple studies of health effects possibly associated with living near oil and natural gas operations. The findings show Colorado’s regulations – considered the most stringent in the nation – continue to protect the public.

The “results from exposure and health effect studies do not indicate the need for immediate public health action,” Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s researchers found. In fact, “any risk of harmful effects is low for residents living near oil and gas operations.”

As Colorado’s population continues to grow at a rapid rate, new home construction has inched closer to land owned by oil and natural gas companies. However, the researchers did not find strong evidence that people living near oil and gas sites were more likely to suffer health problems than the general population. And they could not identify a single study that showed a substantial or even moderate association between energy development and health issues like birth defects or cancer.

The CDPHE also found the concentrations of potentially harmful chemicals in the air around oil and natural gas development are four to five times lower than prescribed health standards for both short-term and long-term exposure.

The health department analyzed more than 10,000 air quality samples to examine how 62  substances in the samples compared to safe levels of human exposure. It found that exposures are within the Environmental Protection Agency’s generally acceptable cancer risk range. Researchers also reviewed 12 other studies on potential health effects from living near oil and gas operations. Of the 27 health effects evaluated in those studies, the department found no substantial or moderate evidence for any health effects.

Colorado passed the strictest air quality regulations in the country three years ago and has the nation’s most comprehensive leak detection and repair program for oil and gas production.

Dr. Larry Wolk
Dr. Larry Wolk

The findings confirm previous analyses and the CDPHE’s data collected over the past several years. Dr. Larry Wolk, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director for CDPHE, spoke last year about data analyzed in Weld County — where more than 85 percent of the state’s oil production occurs — that showed no greater health problems than the rest of the state.

“It’s all about exposure to toxins, and we don’t see anything to be concerned with at this point in time,” he said.

In a subsequent interview with the Colorado Independent, Dr. Wolk — who is responsible for safeguarding the public’s health — reaffirmed his view that the data demonstrates no correlation between oil and natural gas development and detrimental health effects.

“What the data shows is that from a registry standpoint – we maintain registries based on a number of health conditions, whether it’s cancer, birth defects, etc. — that the rates of these different health concerns or issues in some of these oil and gas-rich communities were no different from those that were not in oil and gas-rich communities,” he said.

Dr. Wolk went on to say that the department’s data actually shows improvement among many factors considered public health threats that may be associated with development, such as particulate matter and ozone.

Particulate matter is way down — we don’t have the brown cloud like we used to — and ozone we’ve been able to regulate to a level that certainly isn’t getting any worse, and, in some respects, is actually getting a little better.” – Dr. Larry Wolk, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director for CDPHE

“From a pollution standpoint, we have been relatively stable and have actually seen some improvements in some types of pollution,” he said. He said that based on the data, which is publicly available, “you can’t tie the emissions to the diseases.”

Hickenlooper, relying on the same science and data, has also come to the conclusion that Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry does not pose a public health threat.

“Based on experience and science, I recognized that fracking was one of our very best and safest extraction techniques,” he stated in his memoir released last year. “Fracking is good for the country’s energy supply, our national security, our economy and our environment.”

Citing their commitment to safeguarding public health, industry officials say they continue to support further studies and data collection. The CDPHE is planning on releasing findings from an in-house study on oil and gas related health impacts in 2018.

Tim Peters