CSU study to help assess health risks from oil and gas operations

mobile plume tracker

The “mobile plume tracker” that CSU scientists used to measure air emissions from oil and gas operations. 

A Colorado State University-led study of air pollutant emissions from northern Front Range oil and gas operations has been presented to state officials.

Jeffrey Collett, professor and head of CSU’s Department of Atmospheric Science, was the principal investigator for the three-year North Front Range study, funded by the state of Colorado. Collett presented his team’s findings at a Sept. 15 meeting of the Air Quality Control Commission.

Health risk assessment forthcoming

Data from the North Front Range Oil and Gas Air Pollutant Emission and Dispersion Study – and a similar Garfield County study completed in June 2016 – will be used in a state health-risk assessment, to be completed by summer 2018.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will coordinate the health-risk assessment using the data from Collett’s studies, and is contracting this work to a third-party consulting company. The department is soliciting formal proposals for the assessment and expects to have a contract in place by December.

Fracking, flowback, production

The CSU study was designed to quantify emissions from three specific oil and gas development activities.

  • Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”.
  • Flowback (of liquids after fracking).
  • Production operations.

CSU researchers conducted 18 experiments to quantify air emission rates and dispersion of air toxics, ozone precursors and greenhouse gases from each of the three processes.

Overall, production emissions (which may continue for many years) were found to be lower than the shorter-term fracking and flowback emissions, which last for a few days to a few weeks. Emissions in the North Front Range were slightly lower than in Garfield County, but contained heavier-weight organic compounds, likely due to differences in the geology between the basins.

Data from these two studies represent one of the most comprehensive assessments of air toxics, ozone precursors and greenhouse gas emission rates from oil and natural gas well operations to date.

Dr. Larry Wolk, CDPHE’s executive director and chief medical officer, said: “These studies will provide us with critical information to design a detailed and accurate health risk assessment so we can answer questions related to potential health concerns related to oil and gas operations.”

Download the study here.