After two years and several million dollars, Colorado State University has released the findings of an unprecedented air emissions study conducted at sites throughout Colorado. By all accounts, this potentially industry-rattling study would not have been possible without the assistance of the oil and gas industry itself.
On June 14, Garfield County issued a press release announcing the completion of a three-year study entitled, “Characterizing Air Emissions from Natural Gas Drilling and Well Completion Operations in Garfield County, Colorado.” That mouthful was made possible thanks to a joint financial grant of $1.77 million from both Garfield County and the natural gas industry.
During the study, researchers from CSU were allowed total access to natural gas installations so they might collect air samples at three phases of the process: drilling, fracking, and flowback. Thanks to industry’s cooperation, researchers were able to examine several dozen installations, calculating air toxin emission and dispersal rates as well as a variety of environmental factors.
The overarching goal of the program is to discover the exact environmental impact of air emissions coming from natural gas installations on the Piceance Basin, which sits largely in Garfield County. Recently, the Piceance Basin was discovered to have more than 40 times the amount of natural gas than previously thought.
At a glance, the most surprising aspect of the news is the industry’s own enthusiastic involvement. After all, though the fact-finding mission was commissioned by Garfield County, the natural gas industry was integral to the process. After expressing specific thanks for the industry’s aid, Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said, “[The natural gas industry’s] participation financially not only greatly contributed to the completion of this study, but it could not have happened at all without the access to the sites that the researchers needed.”
Given press that indicates fracking is an air emmissions hazard, such leniency in a real deep dive of the industry’s air emissions would seem counter-intuitive. In fact, it speaks to an innate desire on the part of the industry to both preserve the health of the people in the communities in which they work and limit their impact on the surrounding environment.
As it stands, you’d probably need a degree to understand the results of the study as they currently look on paper, so they have been forwarded to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for interpretation. There’s no specific date as to when the results of the study will be released, though researchers (and, arguably, the nation at large) await the results with great anticipation.