The residents who live in the vicinity of the oil and gas wells in northern Larimer County — such as the Hearthfire neighborhood and County Road 13 — know all too well all about leaking tanks, foul odors and unsafe air pollution; and finally this attracted some media attention. The Larimer Alliance is thankful for this story in the Coloradodoan that was published December 6, 2021:
It was certainly a great effort by the reporter Jacy Marmaduke, the people she interviewed, and especially the videographic work by Earthworks’ Andrew Klooster.
As Ms Marmaduke accurately described, existing oil and gas wells and transmission facilities have fallen through the cracks of industry regulations. Even though SB-181, the 2019 law that dramatically reformed how oil and gas is regulated, and empowered local city and county authorities, in theory, to write their own regulations about oil and gas operations, these have only applied to new wells — leaving existing operations to continue to be regulated by the state. This has come as quite the disappointment of local residents who were hoping for some help and relief from the continuing air pollution.
As we’ve come to find out, when existing tanks start leaking, the state regulators have been slow to react; as the hapless residents having to endure the foul air have found out. It has taken months of effort by local residents complaining to the authorities responsible, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, to get them to inspect the sites.
Unfortunately, it will likely take many more months of efforts by citizens calling out for redress to fix the problem. Please show your support by either commenting here, sending your thanks to the Coloradoan for the above story, or contacting your city and county offices to express your concerns.
Thanks to efforts by Councilwomen Laurie Anderson of Broomfield, and to Andrew Forkes-Gudmunson of LOGIC, an idea for a tour became a reality last week. On short notice, a select crowd of community leaders, including some from the Larimer Alliance, were asked if they would like to attend a tour of one of BoulderAIR‘s monitoring stations. Would a few of us be interested in attending the tour, at noon on Thursday, September 23, 2021?
You betcha! was the response. The organizers were trying to limit it to about a half dozen, but nearly twice that number showed up. People were from Broomfield, Fort Collins, and Loveland, including past Colorado legislator Mike Foote, who helped craft the historic SB-181 legislation.
When we arrived at the Soaring Eagle Park in Broomfield, Dr Helmig, the CEO of BoulderAIR, was just finishing up a tour provided to members of the Aurora city government; so it was a busy tour day!
The Soaring Eagle Park in Broomfield is located in the Anthem housing development, which does have expansive views:
Unfortunately, this upscale housing development is also home to fracked wells, some just a few hundred feet from homes, which were drilled in the years prior to SB-181. Hence the strong interest by local government in getting such monitoring stations installed.
A stable tower anchors the mobile trailer that houses all the equipment, and provides the means of attaching the various sensors that record environmental conditions and air pollution:
The trailer contains sophisticated equipment, worth tens of thousands of dollars, and analyzes the air samples in real time, and automatically publishing the data on the BoulderAIR website in less than 15 minutes. The equipment is under constant maintenance and calibration; though largely automated, the entire system nonetheless needs a good deal of tender loving care to keep it in good operating condition.
The presentation wrapped up with an explanation of the key piece of equipment: a gas chromatograph. The heart of the machine is this delicate part:
On the same site is another sampling station, an AJAX system, which is not part of BoulderAIR, but which Broomfield contracted to build prior to contracting with BoulderAIR:
The Soaring Eagle BoulderAIR station has the most complete set of sensors of any of the seven stations that they operate. It went into operation in April 2020, and has helped Broomfield identify several local pollutants, even ones not associated with oil and gas. There are two new fracked wells that went in within the past two years within about a mile radius; a third well’s drilling rig was just visible about a mile to the southeast from this site, which is being drilled now. So the city has ample reason for wanting a monitoring station in this area.
One of the many interesting facts that Dr. Helmig mentioned during the tour was that this station measured 40 days of non-compliance for ozone this past summer; the recommended threshold for maintaining human health set by the EPA is FOUR DAYS — in other words, this location in Broomfield was 10 TIMES THE RECOMMENDED SAFE THRESHOLD FOR SURFACE OZONE THIS SUMMER! It would be interesting indeed to study the data from those days and find out what percentage of the VOCs causing the ozone were from oil and gas sources versus VOCs coming from vehicular pollution. Why hasn’t this been done, one might wonder?
Well, apparently the state of Colorado is not interested in pursuing that question; and Broomfield does not have the expertise in-house to answer it either. But if BoulderAIR had the resources to hire more qualified staff, they could answer the question for us. But, as Dr. Helmig joked, you can’t just put out a Craigslist ad for this kind of job! Up until now, he has been so busy keeping the monitors going, his small team has not been able to pursue such questions; that might change in the future if BoulderAIR could hire more staff.
As far as anyone knows, these monitoring stations are unique: there are simply no other monitoring stations in the US, or in the world for that matter, that can match their analytical capability. Given the extreme amounts of ozone and, on occasion when accidents happen at oil and gas sites, dangerous amounts of other toxic chemicals that go wafting over the landscape, it would seem a no-brainer that more of these stations need to get built, AND more powerful regulations put in place to allow the state and local governments to shut down chronic pollution sources.
The Larimer Alliance is engaging with the city and county departments to support the installation of one or more such monitoring stations in the county, and support the important work of BoulderAIR. We will keep you posted of developments!
I attended LOGIC’s Oil & Gas 101 Webinar tonight (April 21, 2021) and was much impressed. The audience was quite engaged, which numbered around 35 to 40. A link to the recording is posted below.
Here is a brief excerpt of a question I posed in the chat:
19:52:37 From Rick Casey to Everyone: Awesome presentation; I’d like to make a suggestion for LOGIC’s push for air quality monitoring. This is a regional issue, and will take regional policy. So all us individual communities desperately need a coordinated approach, informed by real technical expertise. Something like a grant from the EPA to set up a system of BouldrAIR monitoring stations, from Denver to northern Weld County, that would comprehensively measure *exactly* what is in our air and where it is coming from….now THAT would be awesome! Rick Casey, webmaster, larimeralliance.org. THANKS AGAIN LOGIC!!!
…which was answered very positively:
19:53:38 From Sara Loflin – LOGIC, Erie (She/her/hers) to Everyone: @Rick Casey, YES! A goal over the summer is to form a working group of local electeds and constituents to really ramp that up and get it going.