A joint health assessment in a Colorado oil and natural gas field has concluded that air pollution-spurred health concerns have to be added to the environmental precautions surrounding well development and, more specifically, hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Three faculty members at the University of Colorado’s School of Public Health in Denver and Garfield County’s Public Health Department assessed the 200-well natural gas field near Battlement Mesa, an unincorporated areas of the county on the West Slope, and concluded that more research is needed “to better understand the health and air quality issues surrounding natural gas development.”

As one of the Colorado’s counties experiencing the fastest growth in exploration and production (E&P), the well completion stage produces the highest emissions, the researchers found. A mix of organic chemicals is released during this process, and researchers concluded that the chemicals may have neurological or respiratory effects on people, particularly those living within a half-mile of the wells.

Concluding that there are noncancer health impacts potentially for natural gas development, the researchers proposed a “community-scale monitoring project” to get a clearer idea of the “degree and extent of hazardous air pollutants [HAP] emitted from gas development during well completions and their impact on human health.” They proposed to build on past and ongoing air-monitoring studies in the county.

The research assessment does not focus on fracking, although it mentions it as one of three primary stages in the well completion process. With the concerns directed at air quality, as opposed to more common fracking concerns with water quality, the researchers pointed out gas production in Colorado increased eight-fold from 2000 (70 Bcf) to 2008 (550 Bcf), based on statistics from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“Ozone levels in Garfield County appear to have some relationship to pollutant emissions from gas development activities,” the report stated.

Lead author Lisa McKenzie of the University of Colorado, told the Denver Post that the data “show that it is important to include air pollution in the national dialogue on gas development that has focused largely on water exposures to fracking.”

The authors plan to publish their study in an upcoming edition of Science of the Total Environment.