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September 13, 2011 08:05 PM UTC

What's in Our Air? Colorado Chooses Ignorance

  • by: ardy39

( – promoted by ProgressiveCowgirl)


The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), together with the Garfield County Department of Public Health and the Colorado School of Public Health submitted a research proposal to the EPA program on Community-Scale Air Toxics Ambient Monitoring.

The CDPHE (& Friends) proposal was submitted in May 2011 and had a goal of bringing approximately $850,000 to bear on the questions of potential impacts of oil and gas development on air quality, and subsequent impacts on the health and welfare of people in the communities in and surrounding development areas in western Colorado.

This, according to two reports in the Glenwood Post Independent last week: PI Sep 4 and PI Sep 9.

The EPA was scheduled to announce who had won grant awards under this competition by mid-August (I gleaned this from the “Award Notices” on p. 21 in the linked document above).

But there has been a “slight” delay.


(From the Post Independent reports.)

An application for federal funds to study air quality in the Battlement Mesa area has been pulled by the state health department, an official at the [CDPHE] confirmed this week. –PI Sep 4

OK, so it’s not a slight delay. It’s an indefinite hold. It’s dead.

It appears that CDPHE’s partners (Garfield Cty and the Sch. Of Public Health) as well as the residents of Garfield County were completely unaware that the state had gotten cold feet until after the application was withdrawn.

… some area residents are questioning the decision and wondering what it means for future air quality studies in the county. –PI Sep 9

So, who got to state officials and convinced them that the people of western Colorado are best served by ignorance of the quality of their air? Do you need a hint?

Speaking of the possibility of future grant applications and efforts to find money for air quality studies, [GarCo employee] said the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association “has some ideas as to how we might move forward.” –PI Sep 4


If the hint wasn’t sufficient, how about I name some names?

With the grant now scuttled, a trade association representative for the gas industry says drillers operating in the area are committed to exploring other options for determining the air quality effects of its activities.

“Our membership supports filling the data gaps identified in the application related to air quality,” said David Ludlam, director of the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA). “We’re committed to working with Garfield County and the state to get there from here.” [emphasis added] –PI Sep 9

Surprised? This is the same organization that used to serve as Kathy Hall’s soapbox about the quality of frac fluids (CO Indep, Oct 20, 2009).


Why was the oil and gas industry opposed to this study? Because it might have had an objective of doing something good for real people?

Ludlam conceded that among gas drillers in Garfield County, “there was an unspoken uncomfortability” with the School of Public Health approach, which he described as being “focused on interpreting data for its public health implications.” [emphasis added] –PI Sep 9

WTF? Why else would the EPA, the state, and the county (or any health officials for that matter), spend time, money, and effort on collecting and analyzing air samples if there wasn’t a concern about the public health implications?

Ludlam, and perhaps others in the industry (and apparently some in state and county government), appear to think that any measurement of air quality should be strictly to spice up the conversation during breaks at the water cooler. Perhaps any data eventually collected could be printed on napkins for COGA’s next annual meeting? Heaven forbid someone evaluate the data as it concerns public health and safety or even plan data collection with the express prior purpose of testing hypotheses (in other words, there’s little support for anyone conducting actual Science in western Colorado).

Really. This is exactly what Ludlam has intimated:

Under the Western Slope COGA proposal [potential researchers] will be asked to “just collect the data,” Ludlam said. [emphasis added] –PI Sep 9

“Collecting data” is NOT science. Testing hypotheses is what doing science is all about. Merely “collecting data” does nothing to ensure the health, welfare, and safety of people.


There’s more to this story. What we know so far is that somebody was able influence members of our state government and convince them to stop a study that could have benefited the people of Colorado. One (or several) people in our state government succumbed to this pressure. Rather than pursue a study that they officially sanctioned when they submitted it to the EPA competition in May, our state government suddenly prefers ignorance. (Well, that, and maybe some re-election support?)

Our state government is no longer supporting a competitively funded, peer-reviewed, scientific study. But, surprise surprise, the oil and gas industry is willing to maybe somewhat kind of support a non-peer reviewed proposal to “collect” a limited amount of “data.”

… local drillers could work with the Colorado State University School of Atmospheric Studies or another team on a survey. Ludlum emphasized a study would “just collect the data,” not interpret it. [emphasis added] –9News

This means a scientific study will now not take place, at least for several more years. This also means that the oil and gas industry, with cooperation of state and county government officials, have decided that ignorance is better than knowledge, at least for the people who live on in western Colorado. (On a more mundane note, it now means that over 3/4 of a million dollars for air quality research will be spent somewhere else, rather than in Colorado.)


I plead for John Colson at the Post Independent to keep digging. Additionally, I beg others in the media (including the esteemed blog-o-sphere) and my fellow citizens of Colorado, please ask pointed questions of our elected officials until we learn just what took place behind closed doors.

Choose knowledge. Your life might depend on it.

[Full disclosure: I had no role in the development of this air quality proposal at any time in the past, present, or future. I have no financial stake in the proposed study going forward. I have never participated in measuring air quality. I do, however, breathe air.]


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