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Opinion Columns

Carman: Coloradans aren’t stupid, no matter what the goons at Defend Colorado think

The secret deep pockets behind Defend Colorado are out to leverage ignorance. It’s a move right out of the Russian election interference playbook. 

With apparently unlimited money and depravity, the organization has orchestrated a campaign of deception that relies on a gullible, credulous public. 

Among its most craven tactics is a series of attack ads characterizing a study (conducted by scientists from North Carolina, California, Virginia, Vermont and Colorado State University) as “junk science.”

Diane Carman

The study was published in the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, one of the oldest peer-review environmental technical journals in the world. 

Its extremely cautious conclusions were that, depending on how close you live to drilling and fracking operations, how big the oil and gas operations are, how old you are and a variety of other factors, emissions could cause negative health effects such as headaches, dizziness, respiratory problems and skin irritation. 

Its most emphatic conclusion was that further research is needed.

For the goons at Defend Colorado, them’s fightin’ words. 

Given their hysterical reaction to this research, we can only assume that they realize the more we know about oil and gas drilling, the more determined we’re going to be to keep it out of our neighborhoods.

So, they’re hellbent on trashing the science, the scientists, the governor, state agencies, the legislature and anybody who just might ask a health professional if breathing that funny-smelling air outside the back door might be the cause of so many headaches.

They’re counting on us not to read even the summary of the 380-page study, Human Health Risk Assessment for Oil & Gas Operations in Colorado, and they assume that we’re too stupid to understand it even if we do. 

They’re also counting on us to swallow some brazen lies.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

One whopper is that the report is a “Polis study.” Defend Colorado depicts Polis as an evil dark knight and implores us to distrust him.

The report actually was commissioned by former Gov. John Hickenlooper – an unabashed champion of the oil and gas industry – long before Gov. Jared Polis took office. And, just in case Defend Colorado missed it, Polis campaigned explicitly on giving local governments more control in oil and gas drilling permit decisions to protect public health, and he won with an overwhelming majority.

Ensuring that oil and gas development is safe is hardly a fringe position.

Defend Colorado’s ads also suggest that a state law that puts public health and safety above profits for the oil and gas industry is destroying the state’s economy – an economy whose major challenges right now are a shortage of workers, a historically low 2.8% unemployment rate, and a business environment growing so fast housing and public services can’t keep pace. 

Defend Colorado’s disregard for public health and safety is at the heart of its hostility toward the report. To understand the credibility of the Human Health Risk Assessment, let’s consider just a few technical aspects of the research.

CSU scientists used vehicles equipped with air monitoring devices to measure concentrations of 47 volatile organic compounds, including benzene and other cancer-causing toxins, in the air near oil and gas operations in Garfield County and communities along the Northern Front Range. They identified appropriate sites for conducting the research with advice from – wait for it – the oil and gas industry.

They also evaluated emissions through three phases of development on the industrial sites: drilling, fracking and flowback (when the polluted fluids from fracking are released and handled).

The scientists evaluated meteorological data in the test areas to determine the rate of dispersal of the pollutants. They mapped wind patterns and the effects of topography on how pollutants settle in low-lying areas or are funneled to specific areas from 300 to 2,000 feet from the industrial sites. 

They calculated how much time residents in the zones surrounding the oil and gas operations would be exposed to the pollutants using activity diaries from people who logged time spent outdoors, indoors and in transit.

They produced information on a range of potential exposures to the pollutants from acute exposure to high levels of pollutants, to chronic exposure to various levels of emissions. They evaluated potential impacts on three age groups: infant to 17 years, 18 to 65, and over 65.

We could go on, but you get the point. This was not a haphazard process. 

It was not contrived to produce a pre-determined outcome. It was not politically motivated. It was not junk.

It’s also not the last word. 

The Human Health Risk Assessment is neither damning nor particularly reassuring about oil and gas development in Colorado. It does provide a whole lot more data, however, and if your business model depends on an uninformed public and an ill-equipped regulatory agency, data are the enemy. 

That’s why Defend Colorado has pulled out all the stops to discredit the science. 

That’s also why so many people living downwind from the drill pads have no faith in the industry, no confidence in its promises of self-regulation and, most especially, disgust for this pathetic, cynical campaign to bury the truth.

Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.