The Air Quality Forum & next steps

So what do you do when a presidential debate is announced to take place on the same night as your own event a mere week before it happens? There was much deliberation with the Larimer Alliance steering committee on what to do…

With our event scheduled to being at 6pm, and the debate at 7, and because we were planning on live streaming the event over Zoom, we thought at least people could watch or attend for the first hour, and then attend the debate. What really weighed on our minds, though, would be the difficulty of rescheduling the event. Our five panelists all have busy lives, and the Old Town Library meeting room is in demand; and, of course, summer is the vacation season. This event was very important for us, and we had been planning it for months. So, in the end, we decided to go ahead as planned.

It would be the first time that two elected officials, both with a history of concern over our air quality, and three other experts on local air quality issues, would be on a panel discussing the issue in public. Here was the flyer we developed for the forum, which profiled the panelists that we had worked so hard to participate:

Screenshot

As our panelists got settled in, and we were preparing to begin the meeting for all the public in attendance, your’s truly was discovering there was a certain amount of complexity to running a Zoom livestream, while also operating the nearby camera to project the panelists up on the screen. But the show must go on: I gave the go-ahead to Ed to begin the meeting, that some Zoom attendees had shown up, and that I had started the recording of the meeting….or so I thought:

Ed Behan hands off the microphone to Andrew Klooster, our first speaker

Meanwhile, each of the panelists in turn contributed their particular expertise and experience with the problem of our severe ozone air pollution in the Front Range — particularly here in Larimer County.

Earthworks: Andrew Klooster

Starting off was Andrew Klooster, who works as a full-time videographer and lobbying for Earthworks (earthworks.org ), a nationwide non-profit dedicated to “ending oil & gas and mining pollution”. He has filmed dozens of O&G emission violations, as a trained technician with an OGI (optical gas imaging) camera, and reported many of them to the CDPHE as being in violation of the law. Unfortunately, these obvious violations of their emissions permit are rarely followed up by inspectors from the Air Pollution Control Division (APCD).

Here are two examples of such videos:

This is a contrasted image that illuminates what is invisible to the human eye:

On the left is what you would see; but on the right is what the OGI image reveals. An OGI image can identify what types of gas are being emitted, such as methane or benzene; but it cannot capture the volume of the gas in question. Moreover, some types of emission events are not required to be reported, such as when operators need to perform certain maintenance tasks, which Andrew has observed on repeated occasions.

All in all, given the lack of an enforcement action on the violations in the videos submitted by Earthworks, we have to conclude this is regulatory failure. The CDPHE and APCD are simply not performing their duty to protect the public health as required by law. It has been allowed to continue for years, if not decades, and it is high time that it changes. This will only happen by raising the public awareness of this failure, and developing the political will to act, which is the purpose of this forum.

Physicians for Social Responsibility: Dr Correll

Next to speak was Dr. Cory Correll, who was present as a representative of the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), another nationwide non-profit that looks for the physical and mental health of the public. They have had a particular focus on the harms from fracking for nearly a decade, which they compile into an annual report; the ninth issue of Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking and Associated Gas and Oil Infrastructure is available on their website.

Dr Correll emphasized how ozone affects people differently, and those more susceptible — the old, infants and persons with pre-existing lung conditions. I have heard that the effect of ozone on the lungs is somewhat like sunburn on them. One of Dr Correll’s slides compared a picture of the inside of healthy lung to a lung that was inflamed from ozone exposure; it was not a pretty sight, and was a graphic illustration of how excessive ozone causes direct human harm. Another slide showed the effect on vegetation. Plants that breathe in too much ozone develop a sickly yellow patches over its leaves, another unpleasant sight.

A recent study of the effects of proximity to O&G operations on the elderly was pointed out by Dr. Correll, which focused on older adults and women with atrial fibrillation. (see ‘Living near oil and gas sites in Colorado could make irregular heartbeat symptoms worse, CU study says‘ from Colorado Public Radio). The author, Dr. Lisa McKenzie of the CU Anschutz Medical Center School of Public Health, has done a number of public health studies related to fracking, and has become an authority on the topic.

In the opinion of the Larimer Alliance, what is really needed is a broad based public health study that is designed to capture the true cost to human health and the natural environment. Such a study needs to be done where there is most fracking and the most people: Weld and Garfield counties. Perhaps the first step of such a study would be to conduct surveys that ask local residents how concerned they are and if they know of anyone who has been impacted by pollution from fracking. Given the prevalence of anecdotal evidence about this, it is surprising that such a study has never been done.

Air Quality Advisory Board: Mark Houdesheldt

Mr. Houdesheldt holds a PhD in (astronomy?)

Broomfield Council: Laurie Anderson

Larimer County Commissioner: Jody Shadduck-McNally

The Colorado Sun misses the mark

or how the public continues to be confused over why our air pollution worsens…

This was a letter I sent to the Colorado Sun today in reaction to a misleading article about our ozone pollution problem..it is self-explanatory:

Re: the 7/9/24 story on “…hunt down one Colorado county’s toxic ozone producers” (by Michael Booth)

Dear Mr. Booth:

I am a subscribing member of the Colorado Sun, and am thankful that we have a reporter like you covering stories about the environment and regulatory enforcement. 

However, the story that was published today “Researchers are surveilling land, air and space to hunt down one Colorado county’s toxic ozone producers” is somewhat misleading. If you are seeking to inform the public about the most effective ways in which to identify the sources of ozone in Weld County, please read on. 

It is all well and good that Coloradoans are getting the assistance of federal agencies like NOAA’s aircraft and NASA’s satellites to help identify the worst sources of ozone precursors from O&G operations in Weld County. I have no doubt they will help…somewhat.

However, they will be one-time operations, which will not be a persistent tool that can be counted on to help us, month in and month out. The FRIPPE study which NOAA conducted back in 2014 was their last effort to assist Colorado in identifying the source of ozone precursors. It proved that O&G and vehicular exhaust both contribute, but did little to pinpoint specific operators in Weld County. Perhaps their efforts this time will do that; we shall see. 

What is needed, though, is a permanent, on-going ground-based monitoring effort, which is measuring our air quality on a continuous basis. The instruments need to be reliable enough on which to base a strong regulatory program that includes provisions for regulatory enforcement actions, including cease-&-desist orders. The technology for doing this certainly exists, and has been put into use in Boulder County, Longmont, Erie and Broomfield (Commerce City had one for a year around 2021 but closed it down for reasons discussed below). The state regulatory agency that is in charge of monitoring our air quality, and enforcing regulatory action, is the APCD (Air Pollution Control Division) within the CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment). 

It should interest us to learn why these four jurisdictions decided to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to build their own air quality monitoring stations. They did so, starting in 2017, because of the distrust of these state agencies and the sincerity of their efforts; perhaps basic competency may have played a part as well. When the O&G industry had controlled the regulatory environment in this state for over half a century, it tends to have an effect on how well funded such regulatory efforts are. While SB-181, the historic law passed in 2019, did fundamentally change the mission of those regulations, there was nothing in that law that changed how much funding went into those regulatory changes; and certainly nothing about air quality monitoring. It is a problem that still needs to be corrected.

Unfortunately, the investment by these Front Range communities has not resulted in any improvement in our ozone pollution problem over the years. Why not? Shouldn’t this improved monitoring, and an abundance of data, have resulted in changes in state regulatory action? 

Sad to say, it has not. There has not been one iota of reduction in emissions pollution. In fact, dozens of violations of emission permits have been documented by Earthworks, filmed in action by their OGI field operators, all of which were submitted to the APCD, which has seldom taken any action to contact the operators about them. 

This lack of enforcement action by the APCD/CDPHE is slowly being recognized as the real impediment to progress on these environmental crimes. This was why the Green Latinos, who were instrumental in the acquisition of the continuous monitoring station that was in operation in Commerce City for a year around 2021, decided to shut it down. Even though they could have continued to operate it, they decided not to do so because their data was effectively ignored by these state agencies. Their refusal to continue to monitor should be recognized as a sign of protest against injustice: the injustice of these regulatory agencies to do their job, which is to protect our environment against such polluters. 

The Larimer Alliance, with whom I volunteer, has been trying to get a continuous monitoring station here in Larimer County. We want to understand where our ozone precursors are originating, which we strongly suspect are coming mostly from Weld County. If we can get a continuous monitoring station installed, and begin to quantify those precursors, we feel confident we will have the scientific data to prove this. 

But it will be of little avail if the state regulatory agencies do nothing with the data. And that will be our next political barrier to overcome, before we start to make progress on curbing our extreme ozone pollution. 

Sincerely, 

Rick Casey 

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