Colorado Toxics - at a Glance
- Why Coloradans should care about oil and gas toxics
- Oil and gas toxics and health
- Groups concerned about oil and gas development and health
In 2005, a record high of 4,373 drilling permits were approved in Colorado. That same year, the director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) reported that COGCC staff were only able to monitor well sites approximately once every 3 years. In 2006, the record for the number of approved drilling permits set in 2005 was surpassed by 35%.
Colorado residents living in oil and gas producing regions have long voiced complaints about foul odors, tainted water and health-related concerns. But this most recent surge in oil and gas development has raised concerns to an unprecedented level. Below you will find information on the health impacts being felt and concerns being raised by Colorado residents.
The chemicals used during oil and gas operations can escape into the environment via a number of pathways: wastes and chemicals stored in pits or tanks may spill or overflow, releasing toxic compounds into air, water or soil. Chemicals injected into the ground may come in contact with drinking water aquifers. And flammable chemicals may burn, releasing a host of toxic by-products into the air.
There are clear ways to start addressing some of the contamination and health concerns:
- Require oil and gas companies to disclose the complete make-up and volumes of chemicals in their products.
- Require monitoring of air and water quality in oil and gas producing areas.
This information is necessary in order to determine the level of public exposure to oil and gas chemicals, and to assess the potential short and long term effects of these chemicals on human health and the environment.
OIL AND GAS TOXICS, CONTAMINATION AND PUBLIC HEALTH
- Disclosure of all chemicals used by the oil and gas industry is finaaly making some progress as the COGCC considers a rule that would require all operators in the state to disclose all chemicals used at all facilities. Read about COGCC's current rulemaking process, updates and information!
- News articles and landowner stories related to health impacts from oil and gas development
- Potential health effects related to chemicals used during oil and gas development
- Oil and gas industry spills affecting water in Colorado
News Articles and Landowner Testimonials
Below are some selected news articles and excerpts from landowner testimonials. Visit our web page on Health Concerns in Colorado's oil and gas fields for many more examples.
Voices from the Gas Fields (Orion Magazine, November/December 2006, Rebecca Clarren) This article features stories of the health impacts being felt by residents in Garfield County, Colorado. There are also audio and video clips with additional stories, and information on issues related to oil and gas and health.
'Collateral damage' - Residents fear murky effects of energy boom (Aspen Times, December 3, 2006, Judith Kohler) Chris Mobaldi is 59, but looks at least 70. In the last decade, she has had two tumors removed from her pituitary gland and endured excruciating pain. ...The Mobaldis believe her neurological system was damaged by drinking water that may have been contaminated by drilling fluids from wells around their former home about 60 miles to the east in Rifle... Other residents near the epicenter of the Rockies' energy boom are starting to worry about their health, too, and who, exactly, is looking out for them. The federal government leaves much of the regulation up to state officials - and in Colorado, some residents fear there isn't nearly enough oversight to keep them safe.
Families fume about gas leaks near Trinidad (The Pueblo Chieftain, July 17, 2005, Mike Garrett) Raton Basin landowners charge that their water wells are being polluted by seeping methane gas from coal-seam outcrops. The ranchers also complain their crop fields and yards are becoming "hot spots" of accumulating gas.
Oil and water make for shaky mix (Durango Telegraph, March 24, 2005, Will Sands) Jake Hottle has been dealing with tainted drinking water for several decades. . .His personal experiences and those of his neighbors led him to form the Cedar Hill Clean Water Coalition. Through investigations, the coalition steadily found poorly cemented wells and open-pit dumping as well as methane gas in 40 percent of the water wells tested. "After a long struggle, the industry finally went back in and properly cemented their wells, and they started lining their pits," Hottle said. While proper cementing and pit lining are now mandated practices, Hottle and many others argue that the industry needs to try still harder.
EPA to citizens: Frack you (Salon.Com, May 5, 2006, Rebecca Clarren) "It's a Catch-22," says the remarkably frank Weston Wilson, an environmental engineer with the EPA's Denver office for the past 32 years. "If the EPA doesn't study the health impacts, then there's no proof that there's anything dangerous happening. It's irrational and corrupt. We used to investigate mysteries, and now we're not. It's sad."
Water well contaminated after hydraulic fracturing of a well near their Colorado home (Landowner testimonial - Laura Amos) In May 2001 while fracturing four wells on our neighbors' property, the gas well operator "blew up" our water well. Fracturing created or opened a hydrogeological connection between our water well and the gas well, sending the cap of our water well flying and blowing our water into the air like a geyser at Yellowstone. Immediately our water turned gray, had a horrible smell, and bubbled like 7-Up.
Potential health effects related to oil and gas chemicals
In 2006, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX, Inc.) began gathering health and toxicity data related to chemicals used in oil an gas operations in Colorado. The TEDX review revealed some startling information on chemical ingredients, toxicity, and potential health effects related to ingestion, inhalation, and other exposures to these chemicals.
- The analysis conducted by TEDX showed that toxic chemicals are used throughout the oil and gas development process in Colorado.
- Of the 245 chemicals identified so far, some chemicals of concern include: 2-butoxy ethanol (2-BE); 2-(2-methoxyethoxy)ethanol; nonylphenols; assorted petroleum distillates; and toxic metals.
- Many of the toxic chemicals are water soluble, volatile and highly mobile. In other words, they do not stay put.
- The four most common adverse health effects of the chemicals in the TEDX database are: (1) neurotoxicity; (2) skin/sense organ toxicity; (3) respiratory problems; and (4)gastrointestinal/liver damage.
Spills and leaks of raw chemicals or oil and gas wastes may affect land, water and air. In Colorado, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) requires companies to report spills of fluids related to any unauthorized release of exploration and production (E&P) wastes that are 5 barrels or more in volume. In some cases, smaller spills are reported, e.g., if the spill enters surface or groundwater.
In the four-year period between June of 2002 and June of 2006, there were approximately 924 spills of oil and gas chemicals and wastes. Spilled products included: crude oil, condensate, produced water, and "other" products. The other products included diesel fuel, glycol, amine, lubricating oil, hydraulic fracturing fluids, drilling muds, other chemicals, and natural gas leaks.
As the chart shows, a large percentage of spills recorded by the COGCC do find their way into groundwater or surface water. Of the 924 oil and gas industry spills reviewed, 20% of them contaminated water: 14% of the spills affected groundwater; and 6% of all spills affected surface water.
Chemicals from oil and gas production and waste facilities enter the air, water and soil through a number of pathways.
One major concern for landowners in Colorado is how quickly these chemicals can travel through the air exposing nearby residents, or leak into water supplies. Depending on the physical location of production and waste facilities chemicals can also get "caught" in the air and build to dangerous levels.
Setback requirements can help communities manage the threat of oil and gas chemicals and health and safety exposures. Many states and local governments require specific setbacks to protect people and wildlife from oil and gas activities. These setbacks can apply to residential homes, drinking water supplies, schools, hospitals, retirement communities, high density areas, quiet zones and natural areas with sensitive species. Below are several examples:
- Maryland: "The Department may not issue a drilling and operating permit if the well location is closer than 1,000 feet to a school, church, drinking water supply, wellhead protection area, or an occupied dwelling unless written permission of the owners is submitted with the application and approved by the Department." 
- Coffeyville, TX: It shall be unlawful to drill, re-drill, deepen, re-enter, activate, or convert any well, the center of which, at the surface of the ground, is located; or within 1,000 feet of any residence, religious institution...hospital or school. 
- Flower Mound, TX: If located on same property as well, new construction must meet the ordinance setback requirements (1,000 feet) from an existing well. 
Many citizens and organizations are working to improve regulations relating to oil and gas contamination and public health. To find out more about these efforts visit the main OGAP Colorado Toxics web page or contact the groups listed below.
Do It Right Las Animas
Email: polarsolar [at] hughes [dot] net
Grand Valley Citizens Alliance
Email: patrick [at] wccongress [dot] org
San Juan Citizens Alliance
Email: josh [at] sanjuancitizens [dot] org
Western Colorado Congress
Email: sura [at] wccongress [dot] org
Western Slope Environmental Resource Council
Email: rob [at] wserc [dot] org
 Code of Maryland Regulations, Title 26. Department of Environment. Section 19.01.09 Oil and Gas Resources, "Criteria for Approval of Drilling and Operating Permit."
For more information:
Related OGAP Web Pages
- More information, including news articles, on Colorado Oil and Gas Health and Toxics Issues
- Colorado Oil and Gas Industry Pollution: In the News
- Colorado Air Pollution from Oil and Gas
- Read a case study on air pollution from condensate pits in Garfield County.
- Oil and Gas Pollution
- Air Pollution from Oil and Gas
- Oil and Gas Waste Disposal
- Landowner Stories
- OGAP's Public Health and Toxics main page