Industry Pokes Holes in Colorado Gas Study

The State Journal
20 March 2012
By Taylor Kuykendall, Reporter

A recent study linking increased risks for chronic and non-chronic disease for residents living near natural gas operations, an industry groups says, used faulty data to reach its results.

"To understand the flaws in the outputs, you have to take a close look at the flaws in the inputs," said Chris Tucker, spokesman for industry group Energy in Depth. "And the modeling exercise at the core of this paper is based on some pretty outlandish inputs."

In an in-depth critique on the Energy In Depth's blog, a research, education and public outreach campaign funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the group skewers the data used in the Colorado study. In the study, the author finds an increased risk of cancer, among other chronic and non-chronic diseases.

"While these numbers are small, the lack of context suggests they could be significant," Energy in Depth writes of the cancer risk outlined in the Colorado study. "But according to EPA's National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment (NATA), these risks are in line with or even well below the risk for the entire U.S. population."

According to the EPA report, EID writes, nearly everyone in the U.S. have an increased cancer risk of greater the 10 in one million found in the report.

"The average, national, cancer risk for 2005 is 50 in a million. This means that, on average, approximately 1 in every 20,000 people have an increased likelihood of contracting cancer as a result of breathing air toxics from outdoor sources if they were exposed to 2005 emission levels over the course of their lifetime," the EPA report states.

Additionally, the report used emissions data from January 2008 to November 2010, prior to the state updating its regulatory rules for the industry. Among those rules were requirements to reduce volatile organic compounds by as much as 95 percent.

The study said that the well completion process is the most dangerous time for exposure to emissions. The Energy in Depth post says the researcher erred in assuming this process took five years, in fact, the industry group says, it takes just months to complete a well.

The study also assumed residents remained within the area were exposed 24 hours a day for 350 days out of the year.

"The study assumes that, aside from a few quick out-of-town weekend trips per year, residents never, ever – ever! – leave the city limits over the course of 70 years," Energy in Depth states. "Unless the ‘town' is actually a prison, this is a fundamentally flawed assumption about the length and extent of exposure."

Energy in Depth writes that the report errors included using out-of-date emissions data, inflated drilling and completing times, inflated cancer risks without context and made faulty assumptions about resident habits.

Additionally, the report had said the gas study was requested by Garfield County, but Jim Rada, Garfield County's chief environmental health official, said the report was not only not requested by the county, but also decommissioned by Garfield commissioners in May 2011.

"I had no knowledge of what she was studying, or her methods, or the implications of her work." Energy in Depth quotes Rada.  "We are not in violation on ambient air quality standards."

Energy In Depth's analysis of the study is available online. The original study is also online.