Elected leaders in Garfield County in west-central Colorado on Monday agreed to have university researchers proceed with a study of the emissions from natural gas drilling operations in parts of the nearby Piceance Basin. County commissioners directed staff to develop a draft agreement with Colorado State University (CSU) researchers for consideration when the commission meets again in September.
CSU, along with third-party consultants at Air Resource Specialists Inc. submitted a proposal to the county board outlining a nonpartisan scientific study to examine air emissions from the gas extraction operations in the county. It is designed to cover the developmental process through well completion, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
Billed as a multi-year, $1.76 million study, a spokesperson for the county commissioners said that $800,000 was slated to come from oil/gas operators in the state, and the rest (still to be determined) from the county-administered oil/gas mitigation fund.
The goal of the project is what its author, CSU Professor Jeffrey Collett, described as the production of "a high-quality, peer-reviewed assessment of air emissions and dispersion from well drilling, hydraulic fracturing and flowback activities" in the county, which has substantial drilling activities akin to other parts of Colorado.
Collett's expertise is in atmospheric chemistry and air quality, and the rest of his proposed study team includes a soil and crop sciences professor at CSU and the president and a project manager from consulting firm Air Resource Specialists.
In addition, Collett's study team will be advised by what he called a diverse panel of air quality experts, including representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, industry scientists and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
A focus of the study is volatile organic compounds that are comprised of methane and various related compounds, including benzene and xylenes. Nitrogen oxides also will be examined in the study, which is not expected to be completed until 2015.
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