A Crestone Peak Resources drilling site near Erie.

In an effort to prove oil and gas developments are not as big a contributor to the Front Range’s diminishing air quality, Crestone Peak Resources announced on Thursday it will install air quality monitors at all of its horizontal fracking sites throughout the state.

Leased from Project Canary, a Colorado start-up focused on using new technology to mitigate the environmental and health impacts of oil and gas operations, the monitors will provide around-the-clock air quality monitoring that reports emissions data at operating sites every few seconds, which will be analyzed a third party at the Payne Institute for Public Policy at Colorado School of Mines.

While the monitors will allow Crestone Peak Resources to quickly identify emissions sources and take action to address abnormal air quality readings, Jason Oates, the director of government affairs for Crestone Peak Resources, said he believes the data will also conclusively prove oil and gas operations are not contributing to the Front Range’s diminishing air quality to the level often placed on the industry by anti-fracking advocates.

Oates said Crestone hopes to provide the air monitoring data to the public before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s next oil and gas rulemaking hearings in April and May.

“We don’t have fugitive emissions, but hopefully this will bring some data and some acknowledgment to the magnitude, or the lack of magnitude, that oil and gas bring to that issue,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of our own testing and the findings were somewhat contrary to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment findings (that linked elevated levels of benzene at the Bella Romero K-8 Academy in Greeley to nearby fracking sites and that fracking could cause negative health impacts for those within 300 to 2,000 feet of a fracking operation).”

However, Detlev Helming, a fellow and associate research professor at the Institute of Alpine and Arctic Research at the University of Colorado Boulder, who Longmont hired to analyze emissions from oil and gas operations near the city, believes the effects could be felt from even further away.

In a study published in 2017 sponsored by Boulder County, he correlated evaluated levels of methane, carbon and volatile organic compounds at the Boulder Reservoir to the 24,000 active oil and gas wells in Weld County as well as the Front Range’s inability to meet Federal Air Quality Standards, but he could not conclusively prove it.

“Our measurements from the Boulder Reservoir have shown concentrations of oil and gas-related pollutants were at a minimum on average two to three times higher than in most other large U.S. cities,” he said. “Based on the known wind patterns, these pollutants are presumably transported into Boulder County from the active oil and gas areas in Weld County.”

He hopes data from a new air quality monitoring site set up at Union Reservoir, near the Weld County border, could strengthen this argument when compared with other monitoring sites throughout the county, but said he does not have enough data yet to make any conclusions.

As Boulder County considers enacting a fracking ban using the new powers granted in Senate Bill 181, these kinds of studies could be critical to building a legal basis, as oil and gas industry leaders continue to reiterate the fact that Governor Jared Polis and the legislative leadership said Senate Bill 181 was not to allow fracking bans and is therefore illegal.

While Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont and Food & Water Watch, two environmental activist groups, are challenging the legality of a ban in Boulder County District Court, Speaker KC Becker said she could only support a ban if the negative health consequences can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

“This bill was not a bill to create bans,” Becker said. “But if we have the legal means under Senate Bill 181 to get fracking out of Boulder County, then I support that, but it has to be based on health and safety findings and the county commissioners need the be the preliminary fact finders. They have to collect the data and it has to be site-specific. It’s going to be challenging.”

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