A natural gas drilling project in the Battlement Mesa area of the Piceance Basin in Colorado could have harmful health consequences for affected residents but there also would be benefits, according to a preliminary Health Impact Assessment (HIA) by the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH).

The HIA was presented Monday to the Garfield County Commission, which would use the data if and when Antero Resources submits a final drilling plan.

Denver-based Antero’s preliminary plans last year, which were used in the HIA, called for drilling up to 200 natural gas wells on nine pads, building a centralized water storage facility with a covered/lined waste pit, and constructing more than eight miles of water and natural gas pipelines.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said Tuesday that to date Antero has submitted no final plans.

Stymied by financial problems related to its Marcellus Shale operations two years ago (see Daily GPI, Sept. 25, 2008), Antero holds about 66,000 net acres in the Piceance Basin. In August the company was operating one drilling rig in the basin; 171 operated wells were producing 48 MMcfe/d gross. Last month three vertical Mesaverde wells were awaiting completion in the Battlement Mesa area and eight vertical Mesaverde wells were near completion in the Gravel Trend area.

Garfield County officials asked CSPH to assess Antero’s preliminary plans after several community groups, including the Battlement Mesa Service Association (homeowners association), Battlement Mesa Concerned Citizens and Grand Valley Citizens Alliance expressed concerns about the proximity of gas development to homes, recreational areas and schools.

Citizens said they wanted more information about airborne volatile organic compounds (VOC), diesel and other particulate matter; hydraulic fracturing fluid, hydrocarbons and VOCs in soil and water; increased risk of fires, explosions and motor vehicle accidents; and changes in community “livability.”

Based on Antero’s early plans, the HIA determined that air quality would be most affected during well pad construction and completion and from truck traffic. Air quality could be extremely poor, ranking a negative 14.5 on a scale of plus or minus 6 to 15. Water quality, however, probably would not be affected because primary water sources lie upstream from the areas Antero said it planned to drill.

Based on the preliminary assessment, CSPH offered specific recommendations related to the Antero drilling permit decisions as well as baseline information to use for future projects:

“Because natural gas development and production will continue to grow in Garfield County, other parts of the region and state, as well as other parts of the country, the results of this HIA…will likely have application beyond the study area and will contribute to filling many knowledge gaps about natural gas development and production and health,” CSPH’s assessment stated.

“In addition, because the domestic natural gas resource is part of the national policy to increase domestic energy production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a high-level discussion of the health implications of this policy needs to take place. While municipal, county and state governments have begun to respond to citizen concerns, a national discussion of the benefits and risks associated with this policy is due.”

The assessment noted that it would “be important to understand public health implications in the context of national priorities for domestic energy production.”

The West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association praised Garfield County’s “scientific approach” to conducting the health assessment.

“Antero Resources has provided the county data in a collaborative spirit, and while time is needed to fully review the draft, the county’s team deserves credit for what appears to be a solid approach,” said association Executive Director David Ludlam.

The report is available online. A public hearing on the CSPH assessment is scheduled Oct. 4, and comments will be accepted through Oct. 20. A final assessment by CSPH is scheduled to be submitted to the commissioners by Nov. 15.

Comments may be sent to maperc@ucdenver.edu or the Battlement Mesa HIA, Roxana Witter, CSPH, 13001 East 17th Place B119, Aurora, CO 80045.

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