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Opinion: Does the Colorado oil and gas industry really think our bad air comes from China?

Dan Haley’s op-ed of March 9, 2020, “We All Breathe The Same Air. Colorado’s Oil & Gas Employees Want to Make Sure Our Air is Clean,” is long on nostalgia for when we didn’t know much about the negative effects of drilling and fracking.

It is woefully and dangerously short on facts. 

For all his claims that drilling and fracking are safe, Haley doesn’t provide links to any sources except for a one-page Colorado Department of Public Health Risk Assessment.

Janis Hallowell

Haley even misrepresents this one source, writing that it “confirmed there are no increased risks of cancer or other long-term health effects from emissions related to oil and natural gas development, disproving the fear mongering and political rhetoric aimed at shutting down our industry.”

The assessment Haley cites does not actually say there are no long-term health effects; it says it didn’t study those effects. 

The assessment does state that short-term negative health effects from exposure to benzene, toluene and ethyltoluenes from 300 feet to 2,000 feet could cause “headaches, dizziness, respiratory, eye, and skin irritation” during worst-case conditions.

It states that it doesn’t “estimate the frequency of worst case conditions” nor does it “rule out the possibility of chronic health impacts, because it does not comprehensively measure chronic exposures representative of what happens in areas with multiple well pads.”

It’s not surprising that Haley neglected to reference the CDPHE’s summary and news release of the study. I’m guessing he didn’t think anybody reading his op-ed would bother to look it up.

In this, the CDPHE director of environmental programs, John Putnam, writes that this study is a first attempt and a basic roadmap from which more research needs to be conducted.

He writes: “However, while we pursue further research, we won’t delay enacting stricter emissions standards for chemicals that cause human health effects, ozone pollution, and climate change. This study just reinforces what we already know: we need to minimize emissions from oil and gas sources.”

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Haley writes that the oil and gas industry “cares” about the quality of our air and that they are “committed to the cause,” while blatantly misconstruing the facts about the long-term effects on health from fracking and drilling. This is a craven and condescending greenwashing of the real motivations of oil and gas CEOs.

I would be willing to take a wild guess that what they care about is what all CEOs care about: making money. But, even that is no longer the stuff of golden parachutes. Profit from oil and gas is in decline. Oil and gas bankruptcies are up. Workers are losing jobs.

Contrary to Haley’s implications that we have clean air and low ozone in Colorado, both NOAA and NCAR have found ozone levels on the Front Range to be higher than acceptable. Air quality here has been rated “F” by the American Lung Association.

The study that Haley cites in his rosy view of safe fracking and drilling doesn’t take into account that contaminants don’t stay next to the drilling sites. Dr. Detlev Helmig of INSTAAR has linked benzene and other carcinogens that are specific to fracking to the poor air quality at Boulder Reservoir.

He concluded that the entire Front Range’s air is adversely affected by oil and gas drilling to the east in Weld County.

When he’s not saying there’s no problem with ozone, Haley takes the “blame others” position and says high ozone levels must be coming from “naturally occurring emissions and emissions transported from other states and countries.”

Does he really think our poor air comes from Mexico? Or maybe China? How convenient is that for the CEO of the Oil and Gas Association?

Here’s what I think: While we do share an atmosphere with the rest of the world, let’s not blame our “F” rated air quality on other states and countries until we’ve banned fracking in Colorado altogether.

Janis Hallowell is a novelist, climate activist and a member of 350 Colorado.


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