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Colorado health study amplifies cry for drilling crackdown

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Rockies Today

October 18 · Issue #19 · View online
The big stories up and down the Rocky Mountains, curated by Mountain West News

Colo. health study amplifies cry for drilling crackdown
A Colorado study released Thursday shows that oil and gas drilling operations may lead to short-term health impacts such as nausea, headaches and nosebleeds, as The Colorado Sun reports.
Potential for short-term health impacts from Colorado oil and gas drilling leads to calls for temporary halt in permits Potential for short-term health impacts from Colorado oil and gas drilling leads to calls for temporary halt in permits
A new study shows that oil and gas drilling operations in Colorado may lead to short-term health impacts such as nausea, headaches and nosebleeds — a finding that is leading to calls for stricter regulations.
The report, commissioned by former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration and released Thursday, found that health risks are greatest during drilling and fracking of wells and that emissions reach 2,000 feet from the drilling site. 
The results represent the worst-case scenario for exposure to benzene and other chemicals in hour-long periods. Benzene is a known human carcinogen, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The report did not find a significant risk for longer-term health effects, and exposure to cancer-causing chemicals was within the acceptable range.
Colorado health officials cautioned that the worst-case conditions happen infrequently, but they could not say how often those conditions occur in areas near newer oil and gas operations. The potential for adverse effects is less likely near existing wells.
The new findings, first reported by The Colorado Sun, raise questions about whether the state’s current 500-foot buffer between homes and drilling operations is large enough to protect public health and reinvigorate a debate regarding Senate Bill 181 that dominated this year’s legislative session. 
In response to the report, Gov. Jared Polis’ administration announced that it would “immediately enact stricter and safer review measures” when assessing applications permits for wells within 2,000 feet of buildings.
More coverage:
Colorado to tighten oversight of oil and gas sites near homes in wake of study finding possible short-term health effects
Colorado residents near oil and gas sites have long worried about health impacts. A new state study bolsters their concerns.
Perspective: Why allowing ORVs in parks is a mistake
Allowing off-highway vehicles in Utah’s national parks is a mistake Allowing off-highway vehicles in Utah’s national parks is a mistake
Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah receives more than 1.2 million visitors per year, but only a tiny fraction make it down to the park’s south end along the spectacular Waterpocket Fold. This section is more austere than the busy area along Highway 24, and it’s far quieter as a result. Even during peak season, you can linger by the dirt road here for hours without seeing another vehicle. 
That’s likely to change Nov. 1, when the National Park Service is slated to begin allowing off-highway vehicles, or OHVs, to use roads in national park service units in Utah. The nation’s other national parks will remain off-limits to the vehicles.
Palmer “Chip” Jenkins, the agency’s acting intermountain regional director (yes, another “acting” official in the Trump Interior Department) ordered the change in late September without seeking public comment. The order was not illegal — it’s an administrative decision — but it is unusual. The OHV plan for Glen Canyon Recreation Area, for example, took the Park Service nine years to craft. Jenkins’ recent order is purportedly intended to “align” the parks with Utah law, which allows “street-legal” OHVs on many public roads. But it appears to be another instance of the Trump administration bending to industry and Utah’s conservative politicians at the expense of some of the last OHV-free places in the West.
To understand how this might change the parks, just look at San Juan County, Colorado, its rugged mountains crisscrossed with hundreds of miles of roads left from over a century of mining.
Background:
Feds to open Utah’s national parks to ATVs; advocates fear damage, noise they may bring
Park managers balk at plan to let ORVs in Utah national parks
Renewables are about to proliferate in the West
PacifiCorp makes it clear: Renewables are about to proliferate in the West PacifiCorp makes it clear: Renewables are about to proliferate in the West
That cleaner energy sources are pushing coal out of the market is no longer news. Digging finite resources out of the ground is expensive, especially when one factors in environmental cleanup costs, and we’re becoming awfully good at harnessing abundant and free fuel courtesy of sun and wind. What is surprising, however, is how fast renewable energy adoption is happening on a regional scale. A massive power sharing network, private companies willing to build clean-energy projects at cutthroat rates, and improved battery storage are quickening the pace of wind and solar adoption in the West. 
PacifiCorp, the largest grid operator in the West, embodies that accelerating transition. The Oregon-based utility today will submit its 20-year blueprint for how it expects to provide reliable electricity at the lowest cost to regulators in the six Western states where it operates. Draft documents and public presentations make clear that the power provider expects a major shift away from coal much sooner than the company signaled just a few years ago. 
“The whole Western market is not favorable to coal. I think that’s the message from PacifiCorp and other utilities,” said David Schlissel, director of resource planning analysis at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. 
More energy news:
Moody's expects Powder River Basin coal mine closures in early 2020s
Campbell County, Wyoming, preparing for 'new norm' of declining coal revenues
Opinion: Small modular nuclear reactors may be future of energy in Idaho
NREL engineer on the ‘grand challenges’ of supersizing wind power on the grid
Renewables marketplace looking to take off in Alberta
Sage grouse ruling scrambles leasing outlook
Latest North Dakota oil and gas figures show record production
Developer of proposed 'Bridger Expansion' pipelines releases new project info
Wolf 1084M remains in north-central Colorado
Thorofare expat lobo lives on Thorofare expat lobo lives on
A former Teton County wolf whose southerly travels beyond the Wyoming border made headlines this past summer is mostly staying put, biologists say.
Colorado seems to attract dispersing wolves every few years, but their presence is usually confirmed under different circumstances.
“The wolves that we know about that are confirmed are ones that are dead,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Eric Odell said. “They’ve basically been hit on the highway or poisoned or unintentionally shot by legal coyote hunters.
“We haven’t had this scenario yet,” Odell said.
In “this” scenario, the Centennial State’s species conservation program manager referred to wolf 1084M, formerly of the Snake River Pack. The animal is living and breathing and can be located anytime courtesy of a tracking collar that would change its signal if the wolf were to die.
In July, the 3-year-old male black wolf made headlines after he was captured on video near North Park, a nearly 9,000-foot-high basin in north-central Colorado. Confirmation of his arrival was announced on Twitter by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who posted a video of the black lobo trotting through the grass and sagebrush.
In the three-plus months since, Colorado biologists have kept tabs on 1084M’s whereabouts when they have had the opportunity, and he has largely stuck to North Park.
More wildlife news:
Two dead grizzly cubs, poached moose found in western Montana
Yellowstone releases three annual reports on bears, birds and wolves
Panel grapples with '65 mph disease' without answers
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists mountain caribou as endangered. But is it too late?
What else we're reading today
Butte Superfund parties reach agreement on final cleanup deal
Near Durango, a highway will bulldoze Indigenous history
Mountain West farmers faring well amid trade war concerns
10th Circuit deny oil firms' bid to stay Colorado climate lawsuit
BLM touts energy jobs in response to critics
Wyoming keeps falling behind while Jackson Hole thrives. Why?
Rockies Today is edited by Matthew Frank, Fellow in Regional Journalism at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana.
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O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, 59812