Legislature

Oil and gas health impact study clears panel

Bill and bill's price tag expand during committee talks

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The potential health impacts of oil and gas operations among Front Range residents will be studied, under a bill that is making its way through the Legislature.

But increased costs to the legislation that were added during a recent House committee hearing left the bill sponsor worried that the effort might not get funded.

House Bill 1297 would require the state to study the impacts that oil and gas operations may have on a person's health and quality of life. The three-year study would focus on residents living in Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer and Weld Counties.

Those counties include cities that have placed limits on fracking — the mixing of water, sand and chemicals that are blasted deep into the surface to crack porous rock to free up blocked oil and gas.

So far, five Colorado cities and more than 100 municipalities across the nation have either placed bans or other limits on the practice.

The bill would require the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to review scientific literature regarding the health impacts of oil and gas operations, and would then conduct a health survey of randomly selected Front Range residents.

If the findings warrant further research, a second-tiered part of the study would kick in, which could involve the review of medical records.

The final reports would then be presented to Legislators and would be made available through the CDPHE's website.

Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, told the House Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee on April 1 that she is not “targeting” oil and gas companies. Ginal acknowledged that those companies provide economic benefits to the state.

“But health is a quality of life issue, as is jobs, as is our energy jobs and education,” she said. “And fear is driving communities to enact bans and moratoriums and fear should not be the motivation in this case.”

The committee's vote to move forward with the study fell on party lines. Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, said that communities are already working together to deal with fracking without the state's involvement.

Swalm cited an agreement between Arapahoe County and the oil and gas industry, which would allow companies to expedite fracking applications if they exceed state standards.

“Arapahoe County has come to a good understanding of how to address this approach,” Swalm said. “The elected officials out there worked hard to come to that.”

Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, said he didn't want to see a state-sponsored study that he thinks would slant toward the viewpoint of fracking opponents. McNulty said that the oil and gas industry is already being watched in a way that protects the public.

“A well-regulated industry does not pose public health threats to our citizens,” he said.

The bill passed the committee, but came out of it more expensive than when it arrived.

The original bill would have focused only on the oil and gas-related health impacts to those who live in the counties of Adams, Boulder, Larimer and Weld. However, against Ginal's wishes, the committee amended the study to include Arapahoe County and the City and County of Broomfield.

That expects to add an additional $200,000 to the legislation, bringing the bill's cost to about $700,000.

Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge said she was concerned that the added cost could be “a game changer” when it goes before the House Appropriations Committee for funding consideration.

“I am supporting the bill, but I am concerned about adding the extra cost,” Schafer said. “My county and other counties care very much about this issue, but let's start with a small, controlled study and, in a future year, we can expand on it.”