On October 17, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) published a groundbreaking study, Human Health Risk Assessment for Oil & Gas Operations in Colorado. The Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association also published a peer-reviewed article summarizing the study.
Conducted by ICF International, the study uses emissions data from oil and gas operations in Colorado to estimate what people could be exposed to as a result of oil and gas development. The research 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.
According to the document, exposure to chemicals used in oil and gas development, such as benzene, may cause short-term negative health impacts (e.g., headaches; dizziness; respiratory, skin, and eye irritation) during “worst-case” conditions. The study found that there is a possibility of negative health impacts at distances from 300 feet out to 2000 feet.
“This study is the first of its kind because it used actual emissions data to model potential exposure and health risks,” says CDPHE Environmental Programs Director John Putnam. “It is an important addition to the increasing body of knowledge about the potential health risks associated with oil and gas operations. As we learn more, we have a better roadmap for where we need additional research.”
The study calls for additional measurements to better understand how the model represents real-world conditions and how often people might be exposed worst-case conditions. It stems from the department’s 2017 release of an evaluation of the existing science on oil and gas health impacts. The 2017 assessment looked at the health risks from certain substances using then-available air monitoring data and called for further research into the possible health effects and exposures for people living close to wells.