Category Archives: CO state level politics

A Citizen’s Testimony

Background: Carol is an impacted citizen who lives in Weld County. She submitted written testimony on March 7, 2024, to support the passage of HB-24-1330, which is about improving air quality through stricter regulations, particularly when issuing oil and gas permits.

The Problem:

Yesterday I drove to Eaton Rec Center, one of the few places that offers an outside walking path for people and pets. But I was stopped short of the parking lot, when driving in from Ault, by traffic at an otherwise quiet stop sign. I look to the west and notice the red and white drill rig, the ugly brown sound wall, thrown up recently and blocking the blue sky and white mountain peaks I normally see from this spot, except on ozone days, of course. I panic: Another well on my doorstep. I was already concerned about two or three wells near the Highland School (Ault) that I passed to get to this traffic jam … dirt trucks, pickups, utility trucks, backed up cars. Those other wells down the road in Ault were just purchased by Chevron from PDC. These sites spew an ugly black vapor most days when I pass by. I’ve tried to get closer to what I see that alarms me at these Chevron sites, but the land is pretty much limited to private property owners and the drillers. I call Andrew Klooster at Earthworks to see if he’ll bring out his OGI camera that captures images of toxic emissions from these well pads. I suspect VOC emissions—too close to Ault neighborhoods and schools, but as yet we haven’t gotten close enough to the Chevron site to document the mess. Now, in Eaton, next door, more and more fracking wells are being drilled along the border with Ault, another community bombarded by fracking. That new well pad in Eaton, across the street from the Rec Center, is within a mile of that busy athletic center, and the new high school (Eaton), condo/apt development across from this school, and Old Town Eaton with its charming 100+ years old bungalows. The 2000-foot setback rule does not go far enough. The ECMC should never have approved this permit. Chalk it up to another environmental disaster that will take a toll on citizens in Eaton and Ault (and whichever way the wind blows). The drilling must stop.

Every drilling permit comes with health risks to the community. Since moving to Ault in late 2017, I’ve been diagnosed with lung nodules and inflamed breathing tubes. The bloody noses came first, then the nasal infection, the migraines, the high blood pressure, the insomnia, followed by anxiety that worsens my PTSD after nine years as caregiver for my partner, David, who died of ALZ’s in early 2017. I bought my house in Ault, sight unseen, as I was closing down my 20-year life with David. I thought I had found the retirement home I dreamed about back in my home state of Colorado, but Ault has become a nightmare after leaving Colorado years back (1993) and living in NH and Maine. Since moving back to Colorado in 2017, days come and go where I can’t go outside, the smell of toxins thick in the air. There’s the ozone days of summer. The wildfire smoke. The fracking pollution. I’ve lost count of the wells drilled in the past six years.

I was welcomed to Ault with a forced pooling notice from PDC, which I followed with many attempts to protest fracking in Ault. My protests were unsuccessful. I testified before the COGCC (now ECMC) only to be dismissed after two or three minutes with comment that my testimony, basically, didn’t count. Citizen impacts didn’t matter, even though Physicians for Social Responsibility state that I’ll die younger, more than likely get dementia, and sure to suffer from respiratory and heart issues because I live near well pads. Babies will not be carried to term and have lower birth weights. All has proven to be true. That is the case with my grandson’s recent experience, as his partner went into labor early, and the baby had a lower birth weight. They too live in Ault, close to that dirty well Chevron bought from PDC, the one south of the Highland School, the one I can’t get to that I suspect is spewing toxic emissions. My grandson works outside. He can’t stay home on ozone days. He’s had nose bleeds since childhood when drilling came to his neighborhood in Berthoud. Let’s be clear: all well pads emit toxins into our air, land and water. Noise, traffic, odor, invasive well pads dot the landscape and toxic vapors stream across the sky wherever the wind carries them. The problem is out of control and we need to hold those in power accountable and the fossil fuel industry accountable.

The Solution:

SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS TO INCLUDE:

• The ECMC must adopt a holistic, comprehensive definition of cumulative impacts that encompasses the additive effects of exposure to multiple pollutants, from multiple sources, through multiple routes of exposure. The definition must also consider impacts to climate, air and water quality, biodiversity, and public health.

• The ECMC must incorporate environmental equity and cumulative impacts analysis into its permitting processes to ensure equitable outcomes. Permits need to be phased out, particularly in non-attainment zones the EPA has designated as having dangerous ozone levels.

• Colorado’s Environmental Justice Action Task Force recommended that the ECMC use these analyses in permitting decisions and consider impacts on lower income neighborhoods in particular. It’s no surprise that communities most impacted are poor, working-class, and house people of color.

• The ECMC must deny permits in disproportionately impacted communities (like Ault). We need a limit on how many wells are drilled and deny permits from operators with repeated violations. This is especially needed in communities that routinely face socioeconomic barriers and are already overburdened by environmental harms. Any new oil and gas development will perpetuate social and environmental injustice and exacerbate cumulative burdens.

The ECMC must work in conjunction with Air Pollution Control Department (APCD) before issuing any new permits. Pre-production pollution must be considered and loopholes to avoid regulations, modeling, and monitoring must be closed. Colorado air regulators have underestimated ozone from oil and gas development. No more false arguments from those who support oil and gas about cars and lawn mowers and our topography causing our air pollution problem when I’ve seen the NOX and VOC with my own eyes through the lens of an OGI camera while touring the toxic oil fields in and around Ault with Andrew Klooster of Earthworks. He calls me “the golden goose of major emission events” because my calls for help lead to these unpleasant realities: serious health problems and a damaged environment.


Closing Comments:

I prefer a complete ban on fracking in order to focus on the wells already out there, on Colorado’s Front Range, that need attention, stricter regulations, and more enforcement against environmental violations. Active, inactive and so-called plugged wells all pollute. The Front Range has been designated a “non-attainment zone” for days of intolerable ozone levels, particularly in summer. This is Colorado and we can’t even go outside. This is insane and a threat to our economy that benefits most from tourism, not fracking.

Colorado needs HB-24-1330 to pass. Any rulings that will slow down the permitting process will help our air and the health of our citizens. We can’t keep rubber stamping permits. If we do, there won’t be an empty field along the Front Range without a well pad and all the traffic, noise, dust, water use and land destruction that goes with it. We must begin to transition off of fossil fuels and not buy into the false reports that ending oil and gas development will hurt our economy when the industry makes up a small percentage of Colorado’s GNP. Our most important asset is our people and our beautiful land. We must prevent ozone related illnesses, early deaths and premature births.

The time to act is now and it begins with stricter regulations, modeling, and monitoring of well pads or citizens will start to die and the land and water and air will be lost. This isn’t an over reaction; this is reality. The state of Colorado and its governing actors must do their jobs to enforce SB 181 and develop stricter rules to clean up the mess fracking has made of our beautiful Front Range, and to ensure a healthy and safe future for our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and generations to come. I strongly believe that HB-24-1330 is a step in the right direction.

Our governor, Jared Polis, sold their family farm in Berthoud some years ago when the first drill showed up across the street from his farm. He had the money to move. Some of us don’t, or trust me, we would. Nobody lives in Ault by choice, not in my family anyway. We live here because it offers affordable housing. But we didn’t realize that we were trading affordable housing for a toxic environment. This is environmental injustice.

Stop gassing the Front Range! Ban Fracking. And if you can’t do that, clean it up, if it’s not already too late. And begin the transition to greener energy. Phase out the permits. We need tougher rules and regulations that are strictly enforced. We need modeling and monitoring of well pads, current and proposed. Do you want a fracking well near your home, school, community center? I think not. Have some moral and ethical courage. Do the right thing for the citizens of Colorado and the wellbeing of our environment—not the polluting and life-destroying fossil fuel industry. Pass HB-24-1330.

The unfortunate ending of Broomfield’s air quality monitoring programs?

At its monthly meeting on October 17, 2023, the Broomfield Council made a impactful and unfortunate decision on their air quality monitoring programs during a Special Study session: They decided not to renew the 2024 contract with Boulder AIR, but instead to continue its contract with Fort Collins-based Ajax Analytics. The Council’s vote was based on strongly worded directive from its city manager, Jennifer Hoffman.

Having learned beforehand that the Council would be voting on this matter, a member of the Larimer Alliance signed up to speak during the public comment period in support of continuing the Boulder AIR contract. The recording of the meeting can be seen here:

City Council Special Meeting and Study Session – October 17, 2023

The Larimer Alliance has carefully reviewed the recording of that meeting, which appears below. A quick summary of the upshot of the meeting follows.  We believe this was an ill advised decision that is relevant beyond Broomfield, affecting thousands of citizens in the Northern Colorado Front Range. Therefore, it deserves the attention of the broader environmental community that is concerned about the dire state of our regional air quality.

(Note: Because the term is used so often below, Air Quality is abbreviated as AQ.)

A Summary of the Council Special Meeting

Here is the upshot of what happened at this nearly two-hour long meeting, which ended in several votes by Council after the staff and city manager gave a detailed, but not exhaustive, presentation:

  • The Broomfield Council was led to believe, by city staff and the city manager on their word alone, that the data collected by Ajax  is of equal quality to the data collected by Boulder AIR.
  • There was no hard data provided to back up this assurance of data quality.
  • The Broomfield staff and city manager also indicated to Council that state agencies have begun to use Ajax Analytics technology in preference over Boulder AIR technology, which the Larimer Alliance does not believe is the case.
  • Despite almost four years of successful operation, the Boulder AIR’s AQ monitoring contract for 2024 was not renewed.
  • Ajax  AQ monitoring contract for 2024 was renewed. 

It is due to the lack of information, and uncertainties produced by the staff and manager’s presentation, that we felt the need to speak out.

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

Broomfield staff and the city manager asserted without proof that Ajax Analytics data would be comparable to Boulder AIR data. Ajax Analytic systems uses screening tool-type monitoring sensors with trigger canister sampling.  These methods and technologies have never been audited nor accepted by the EPA.  In contrast, Boulder AIR data follows regulatory grade protocols, Boulder AIR monitors have been audited and accepted by the EPA since the started operating in 2017 at the Boulder Reservoir.

There was no solid evidence brought forth showing the comparable performance of Ajax  to Boulder AIR technology. In fact, it is well known by Broomfield residents that there have been numerous problems with Ajax equipment. One simple comparison can be made that clearly shows this: the number of valid VOC samples that were analyzed by the two systems in 2023. The Boulder AIR sampling program has been collecting data on many concerning pollutants that include ozone, methane, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen oxides, fine and coarse particulate matter, and over 14,000 VOCs samples per year, all at high accuracy.  Ajax monitoring provides screening grade indicator for total VOC only.  Their canister sampling collected some 280 samples last year:  a mere 2% of the Boulder AIR program.  Boulder AIR’s monitoring identified 22 oil and gas well pad emissions events, compared to 8 valid events reported by Ajax.

In reaction to the inconceivable recommendation by Broomfield City staff and  the Broomfield Council vote, a Broomfield resident started an online petition in mid-December 2023, calling on the Council to seek objective information and revisit its decision.  That petition can be seen (and signed) here:

BETTER AQM (AIR QUALITY MONITORING) IN BROOMFIELD

The air monitoring and air quality research that has been provided by Boulder AIR for local Front Range Governments over the past five years has been instrumental in developing a much-improved understanding of regional air pollution sources, air pollution transport and air quality and health impacts. Local governments and policy makers have been heavily relying on this information for drafting and passing stricter air pollution policies that have benefited all of Colorado citizens. 

The Larimer Alliance additionally comments here that a fundamental reason why local communities felt the need to invest in reliable local AQ monitoring technology was because they had lost confidence in their state agencies. The data, or lack thereof, that was forthcoming from the APCD or the CDPHE  during ongoing struggles with getting information from them by the pubic at large is what let the various communities to contract with Boulder AIR, and control their own access to reliable AQ monitoring data. This deserves to be a significant point to remember in the evolution of this complex regional process by the state legislature, should they choose to review this article.

Recognizing the lack of capacity (or interest) of CDPHE to provide oil and gas well pad emissions monitoring, regional air monitoring and air quality research for Front Range Communities, between 2017 – 2021 Boulder Country, Longmont, Erie, and Broomfield decided to move ahead with implementing their own monitoring to inform its citizens and legislators, and to present a united and common voice at the State level promoting stricter air emissions permitting and enforcement of existing policy and more protective air emissions legislation.  Recognizing the efforts and weight of this coalition of local governments, Weld County now has also implemented its own air monitoring program.  Interestingly but not too surprisingly, given Weld County’s historic support of their oil and gas industries, but of much concern for the health interests of the Front Range communities, Weld County’s monitoring program has been used to argue against the State’s efforts to reduce pollution: see  (https://www.greeleytribune.com/2023/04/15/weld-county-officials-challenge-ozone-data-referenced-by-gov-polis-in-directives-targeting-oil-and-gas-emissions/).

It is concerning that with Weld County having become increasing vocal in defending it’s oil and gas industries, and Broomfield’s withdrawal from the Front Range’s Air monitoring coalition may weaken the position of the Front Range communities in their quest to regulate oil and gas emission and attain cleaner air.

The Larimer Alliance supports the Broomfield citizen petition; but not just for the people of Broomfield. All people in the Front Range are affected by this decision. We strongly feel this would be a disastrous decision with dramatic consequences for our state’s air quality. The quality of the data produced by Ajax Analytics monitors has never been audited, and is, we believe, vastly inferior to Boulder AIR’s data, both in quantity and quality — and therefore vastly inferior, if not totally unreliable — on which to base regulatory actions.

We join the signees of the petition and strongly encourage  Broomfield Council to not rely on the on their poorly informed staff to interpret the information for them but instead seek objective information on the AQ programs, possibly by outside experts.  PREFERABLY BY directly consulting with  the two CEOs of the two companies, Dr Helmig of Boulder AIR and Brent Buck of Ajax Analytics to explain their technology and limitations to them in another special session.

The Pathetic State of Colorado’s Air Quality…and the Pathetic Attempts to Regulate It

This decision by the Broomfield Council involves a complicated nexus of issues which requires a bit of background to fully understand. Here are the salient points:

  • Emissions of VOCs and nitrogen oxides have been steadily increasing in northeast Colorado, causing a degradation of air quality throughout the regions.
  • The state’s regulatory agency, CDPHE, has been negligent in fulfilling its obligation, allowing the expansion of the industry with little regulatory oversight.  Rather than relying on objective data, CDPHE has vastly relied on the self-reporting of emissions by the industry, which over and over has been shown to underestimate actual emissions, often by up to a factor of three.
  • The NoCo region has been out of EPA compliance for surface level ozone since 2004.
  • Surface level ozone pollution has been increasing such that the EPA downgraded the quality rating from “serious” to “severe” in 2021 (see here for more information).
  • Air quality is monitored by the CDPHE in .various categories, but only a few of the station include the ozone precursor nitrogen oxides. CDPHE does not provide continuous monitoring of ozone precursor VOCs at any of their Colorado monitoring stations..
  • Local jurisdictions (cities or counties) began using Boulder AIR monitoring in 2017 to gain a better understanding of what is in their air, including the ozone precursors.
  • Boulder AIR monitoring stations had been installed at six locations and five jurisdictions by 2023.
  • There is no clear legislation, at any level, indicating how to manage or coordinate air quality data between local, state and federal agencies.
  • There is no clear legislation that spells out what to do with such data; in particular, what compliance enforcement actions that could be taken to identify and reduce or eliminate the source of the pollution.

In other words, air quality management in Colorado’s Front Range is an unclear and conflicting state of affairs, despite some mighty efforts and expense, which calls out to be addressed. It is my understanding that there will be some legislation during the upcoming 2024 session that will address this, particularly the ozone problem; but what form that will take is as yet undetermined.

Why Colorado’s AQ Regulation Is (Overly) Complicated

Colorado’s implementation of air quality programs is a spread over the following state agencies (with links to their websites):

  • CDPHE – Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment
  • APCD – Air Pollution Control Division, within the CDPHE
  • AQCC – Air Quality Control Commission, within the CDPHE

The APCD is responsible for issuing the emission permits to companies that create air pollution from stationary locations. The purpose of the AQCC is ostensibly to “oversee Colorado’s air quality program” though its exact role, and relationship to the APCD, is murky at best. The real purpose of the AQCC appears to be political, since all four members of its commission are appointed by the governor. The only mention of their relationship to the APCD on their website says “Please do not confuse the Air Quality Control Commission with the Air Pollution Control Division.” (see here)

Without further transparency than what’s shown on their websites, it is left to the public to speculate on how decisions within these two key agencies are actually made regarding our air quality. Given the significance of AQCC commissioners being appointed by the governor, while the APCD staff is more engineering oriented, top-heavy with specific roles related to monitoring, compliance and outreach (as its detailed org chart shows), it suggests that the AQCC has the final say on air quality policy decisions. That is pure speculation on our part, but given the heavy handed treatment of this issue under the Polis administration, it seems likely.

Then the Plot Thickened….

As if this the distributed nature of AQ regulation in Colorado wasn’t complicated enough, their regulatory roles were materially affected by the passage of SB-181 in May 2019, which mandated that the former COGCC (Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission), now the ECMC (Energy and Carbon Management Commission), not only regulate and monitor the wells drilled by the O&G industry, but now also protect people and the environment from said industry. The irony of the situation was not lost on members of the environmental community, which had been fighting with the COGCC for the past decade due to the environmentally malevolent, multifaceted effects of fracking.

This was a new twist for the ECMC, and was, in effect, a forced marriage with the CDPHE — which itself had no experience in regulating the O&G industry! This must have resulted, one can imagine, no small amount of confusion as the senior and middle managers within these agencies scrambled to cope with these newfound responsibilities. Because as with any sweeping law that attempts a major shift in a new direction, there will be many details that are later found lacking in its implementation. The hapless regulators can only cope as best they can when they attempt to implement the new law. Small wonder, then, that the rulemaking period for SB-181 took over a year and a half to accomplish — and even after all that effort said little or nothing to clarify the responsibilities for air quality regulation.

So, although SB-181 resulted in a complete reinvention of O&G regulation in Colorado by transforming the COGCC into the ECMC by replacing its previous appointed board with a professionally nominated one, it did little to resolve confusion over air quality monitoring and emissions enforcement. Small wonder, then, that local jurisdictions have had difficulty where in the judicial and legislative landscape they fit in. Lost in the wilderness might be an apt description.

Local AQ Data Do Not Matter to the State

The one tangible result that was an outcome of this reworking of the COGCC-to-ECMC transformation has been greater recognition of environmental injustice in the sighting of polluting industries, and the need to at least acknowledge it, if not do something meaningful about it. The Suncor facility in Commerce City was a particular focus, resulting in the creation of the Cultivando Project (see cultivando.org). The increased publicity of Suncor’s repeated air pollution violations did result in a $9 million fine that has created some additional monitoring projects. However, such a fine will hardly alter the behavior of a company with $41 billion annual revenue. But this brief spurt of increased monitoring at one facility serves as a example of regulatory failure: there has not been any real change in how the company operates. What does it matter if there is more data collected about how much pollution is generating if nothing is done about it?

In the end, in the summer of 2023 the Culitvando Project decided to stop their AQ monitoring project there (“After declining an EPA grant, a Latino-led community group ends air monitoring project near Suncor Energy”, CPR News, July 27, 2023), which should serve a stark challenge to other air monitoring projects: if there is no plan to incorporate the resulting data in on-going monitoring and enforcement actions against the guilty parties, the projects are likely to fade away — while the industry operations continue as before. This might have been the first time that an independent, community-controlled air quality data project collected data in a scientifically rigorous manner which directly contradicted what state regulators and Suncor said was happening; and still it was not enough for the state to admit it as sufficient evidence to take any action.

The Showdown in Broomfield: A Fateful Decision Is Made

All of the above information serves to show how confusing it must be for local jurisdictions to attempt to do anything meaningful with their own air quality monitoring. Since there are no legal paths for using the data to do anything legally binding, the value of the data appears to be limited to its scientific, health and political value. In other words, the industries and consumer activity that create the pollution are not even going to be identified, much less have any corrective actions taken to remedy the problem.

With this background, one can understand the sentiments and frustration expressed by the Council, its staff and the community members who made comments at the meeting. We have summarized this long meeting below to be the best of our abilities, as well providing more background information, which we hope will be useful to the community.

The high points of the meeting were:

  • Broomfield staff who conducted the studies of its AQ monitoring projects did a lot of work, over several years, directed by city manager Jennifer Hoffman.
  • Both monitoring systems had been in use since 2019.
  • All costs had been paid for by Broomfield.
  • That Broomfield has been subjected to a considerable amount of O&G drilling within and near its county limits in the recent past, resulting in a considerable amount of air pollution to the community, hence the need for accurate AQ monitoring.
  • Broomfield’s air quality staff interacted quite a bit with the APCD in its research.
  • The staff believes the state should be conducting and funding AQ monitoring, and is exploring other funding through DOLA, the Dept of Local Affairs (see cdola.colorado.gov).
  • The decision made to stop supporting two AQ monitoring programs was made mostly on the basis of cost to taxpayers, not harm to community health.
  • Jennifer Hoffman, the city manager, simply requested the Council to adopt the conclusions she and their staff arrived at, leaving no opening for further discussion or investigation.
  • There was no discussion of the comparative AQ monitoring technologies in question in terms of accuracy, precision, or timeliness of the data.
  • There was no discussion of the comparative expertise of the two small companies in question, though both are local to the area and could have been contacted.

Other conclusions can be made after watching the recording:

  • There is no provision for actions to take to cure or eliminate harmful pollutants at the source.
  • There is no identification of what levels of pollutants that are harmful to human health and the environment (only to “inform”)

What Was Said

Since the recording of the meeting is nearly two hours long, and because we would like to provide some context to what we say here, the notes below provide a timestamp index into what was said in the meeting. (Note: The numbers refer to hour:minutes:seconds as displayed in the recording’s timestamp) If interested, we encourage you to check our account of the recording of the meeting.

03:10 – Staff presentation begins with Renee Boulliard, the lead staff member reporting on the AQ topic. This was very detailed, somewhat technical, covering the breadth of the committee’s work from 2018 to 2023, including some specific pollution events detected by the Ajax and Boulder AIR systems.

11:30 – Staff presentation continues with Jason Vahling, director of Public Health. Described their methodology for identifying health events and dealing with them. They hired a consultant, Dr Megan Weisner, a toxicology expert. His department prepared quarterly updates on health concerns, which are shared with the Council and the public. Had monthly meetings with the CDPHE regarding pollution events, collaborating on their methodology.

Mr Vahling described attempts to secure funding from CDPHE for AQ monitoring, which were unsuccessful. A pointed comment was made how the CDPHE will not consider local data, even if it is “reference grade”. This term was never explained, but we assume it refers to data collected from Boulder AIR stations, which maintain rigorous research standards, as the data have been used in scientific journals with high standards for publication; we believe “reference grade” also means the data can be used as evidence in legal cases. Note that Ajax Analytics data were never referred to as having this level of quality.

32:30 – The final recommendations portion of the presentation begins. Notes that in 2023 the AQ program as a whole went over budget, and therefore intended to ask the Council in Q4 2023 “…how they should proceed.”

34:45 – The recommendation to discontinue the Boulder AIR contract is made.

35:20 – Renne Bouillard demonstrates she is unfamiliar with the Boulder AIR system as she misidentifies, and mispronounces, “mass spectrometry” as the technology used in its instruments. This is not quite correct, because the heart of the measurement system is a gas chromatograph, which is utilized in conjunction with a mass spectrometer detector.

36:44 – staff presentation ends

37:09 – in-person public commentary begins (there were 2 in-person commenters: one for the staff recommendation, one was against.

41:01 – phone-in commentary by a Larimer Alliance member begins. There was a 3 minute limit, which was filled. Council was asked to support Boulder AIR, due to its superior data quality for protecting community health versus the Ajax Analytics technology.

44:08 – Kathy Swan Bogard’s commentary begins. Her testimony went over time, so the mayor had to tell her time had expired after about 4 minutes. Kathy made a strident case for the Boulder AIR technology being much better than Ajax Analytics technology, which “has had trouble from the get go.”

48:08 – Questions & comments by Council begins.

Rep. Paloma Delgadillo asks a very relevant question regarding human health, namely what levels of benzene are considered safe for human exposure. Megan Weisner’s answer, the epidemiologist consultant, seem indicated the “highest weekly values” around the “production sites” (referred to verbally, not identified by name or a visual map), was “point four six” (.46 ppb), and the “chronic” level was 3 ppb (3.0), so while there is some background benzene levels it was “trending down” to the “background levels” of .2 ppb.

Ms. Delgadillo’s next question was equally interesting: is there any way to compare the validity of Boulder AIR data versus Ajax Analytics data? Or are they even measuring the same things?

Ms Weisner responded that Ajax collects the triggered canisters and has them analyzed at a lab at CSU by PhD students working under the direction of Dr Jeff Collett (see his CSU bio here)…that they check for 49 different chemicals in that canister’s sample…and totally did not answer Ms Delgadillo’s direct question…as her answer did not mention Boulder AIR, or how their data compares to Ajax Analytics data.

51:30 – Mr Vahling did address this question, and the first words out of his mouth were that “the state is moving towards the technology that Ajax has, the PID sensors.” That “they are getting more reliance on that…the real time data…that they’re collecting.” He then characterized the data that a Boulder AIR station collects only occurs for 15 minutes, and is then “extrapolated” (a mathematical term meaning to extend in the same direction) for the rest of the hour; whereas the Ajax Analytic data is “collected in real time.” (This is a grossly incorrect misconception which is addressed below.) He closed by commenting that the state agencies are not moving towards “reference grade”, but rather are beginning to use PID technology like Ajax Analytics…and then abruptly left the podium. Again, this never answered Rep. Delgadillo’s original question.

53:03 – One last time, seemingly trying to get a straight answer out of the evasive staff, Rep. Delgadillo asked if there have been any problems at all with the Ajax Analytics system, or “has everything just been hunky-dory?”

Renee Bouillard stepped up to answer the question….which sounded like an evasive runaround, stating that their contract with Ajax has a “90 per cent SLA agreement” and that this is “really high in the industry”, and that Ajax performance has been higher than that. (An SLA means service level agreement, and is common in real time industries that do continuous monitoring, such as computer networks.) The answer was, again, evasive because it only refers to the percentage of time the system was operating, not the type, quantity or quality of the data it produced.

53:50 – The city manager, Jennifer Hoffman, then interrupted the Council by stating that she did not want this “…to be a value judgement on Ajax or Boulder AIR.” That the two systems deliver “two very different…avenues… of information…” That the “…speed with which they deliver it isn’t a value judgement from our perspective.” That she didn’t want “Boulder AIR to be seen as more reliable or less reliable…nor, uh….Ajax.” And that “It’s hard to hear from the community…that we [i.e. the Council & the manager] don’t care about community health..from a public health perspective…that we should go either direction.” This was followed by praise to the mayor (“a champion of public health”), because now they have a “team of seven…which we didn’t have in 2018…”

We are not quite sure what to make of the city manager’s comments here; but she appeared to be extemporaneously seeking a way to remove the comparative quality of the two systems, and that the timeliness of the data availability should not be used as a basis on which to evaluate the two systems. (It is rather mystifying that if you are not going to use the timeliness or the quality of the data produced by a technology, to evaluate it….then what would you use?) By removing these comparative qualities, it would make it easier to suggest to the Council to choose between the two systems based on cost and the type of system: a warning system or a community health system. This is discussed further below.

The next council member to comment was Heidi Henkel. She noted that Broomfield had been going back and forth with the CDPHE over the past four years over who should pay for AQ monitoring, and specifically what toxicity levels of benzene are acceptable; as well, she states, as other public health sources have stated, there are no “safe” levels of benzene in the human body.

The public health director, Jason Vahling, answered Ms Henkel’s question, saying the CDPHE is “not interested in funding [such a] health study.” He did touch on new legislation and its rulemaking that focuses on “impacted communities” and that the CDPHE will need to identify the specific pollutants involved there. This is sliver of information indicating how the role of the CDPHE is shifting, however slightly and slowly, towards the regulation of the O&G industry, from which they had been prohibited before now, but which the passage of SB-181 changed. However, as the director says, this will not happen until 2025(!).

Upon further questions from Ms Henkel about whether the CDPHE was willing to pay just for the data collected by the Boulder AIR stations in Broomfield, he replied, no, because the state will not accept that data as valid because such data series were not created under the Clean Air Act. Note that the EPA has been accepting Boulder AIR data into its data series for AQ Data for Outdoor Stations for some time. This contradiction in the state’s position that the EPA does not consider Boulder AIR’s data to be consistent with the EPA — when the EPA has audited Boulder AIR’s data and has been accepting it for several years — is a strikingly inconsistent position for them to take.

Ms Henkel pressed on with her questioning, and next asked about a grant that had been submitted to DOLA (see above) about funding for their Boulder AIR stations. Dr Weiner responded, saying that Broomfield is a partner on the grant application; however, the grant would be used for analyzing Boulder AIR data “to find out where the sources of ozone are coming from” (i.e. precursors), but that it would not be used for further funding of AQ monitors.

This was indeed an interesting information, and is the first time, to our knowledge, that a government employee admitted that Boulder AIR data could be used to identify “sources of ozone.”

Next, Council member James Marsh-Holschen hammered away with questions about Boulder AIR and state compliance…which was somewhat surprising to hear. The Boulder AIR monitors are not part of state compliance in any way, and have been operating in Broomfield since 2019. The health director, Mr Vahling, answered that the Boulder AIR data have been useful for advocacy purposes, in providing solid evidence that the source of their ozone non-compliance comes from Weld County.

Mr Marsh-Holschen next asked a key question: what will they lose, in terms of advocacy, if they lose their Boulder AIR monitors? Dr Weisner stepped up to answer this question, relating that she is part of an Interim Ozone Committee (interim in the sense of being between state legislative sessions), and recently participated in a presentation at the capital. She said that while both Boulder AIR and Ajax monitors measure ozone precursors, that Ajax data are more precise for what phases of O&G operations; and that they would still be “relevant in the rule-making if they no longer had Boulder AIR [data] moving forward.”

The good council member was still concerned about “losing a leverage point” if they discontinued Boulder AIR, given the progress that Broomfield had made with pushing the CDPHE to address the ozone problem; so he asked Dr Weisner directly. She answered, no, she did not think they would lose such a leverage point because the CDPHE is “moving towards the PID systems” that Broomfield has their Ajax monitors, and that they (Broomfield) “have dramatically shifted the landscape” because of this. She assured the council member that because they are part a local government group with Boulder, Erie and Longmont, which all have both Boulder AIR and Ajax monitoring systems, that if Broomfield were to drop their Boulder AIR monitors, they would still play a part with their Ajax monitors and their data.

One last question from Mr Marsh-Holschen was how much did the Boulder AIR system cost? $450,000, answered staff.

Next, council member Deven Shaff asked a new question: what would be the advantages and disadvantages of keeping just the Boulder AIR program, strictly for the purposes of measuring O&G pollution in Broomfield, not for overall community monitoring?

Dr Weisner answered this as well, emphasizing how she and the Broomfield staff had worked closely with CDPHE regarding the siting of Ajax canisters in proximity to the O&G well sites in Broomfield; and that O&G emission events are sporadic — they are unpredictable as to when they occur, or how much pollution they will produce. She also expressed concern about the two ability of the two existing Boulder AIR stations to be able to detect any emission events from them, that the “plume might be too diluted,” and because all the wells being monitored are in production, and therefore less likely to have emission events. For all these reasons, she emphasized, she was afraid that “a Boulder AIR station was going to miss….a plume…because there are only two stationary monitors…”; whereas, Ajax canisters can be “strategically placed…and moved…in case we need to move them.”

Mr Shaff then asked a question, which he alluded to public comment, about the auditing of the data collected by AQ stations: has the audited data Boulder Air been compared to Ajax Analytics? Dr Weisner replied she could not comment on that, because she has no expertise that area. With such a comment, the Council was left in the dark about the auditing of their AQ monitors data; which is as serious an oversight as allowing financial statements to be submitted without being audited by a CPA. This speaks to the new regulatory territory that is being explored here, where the standards for what stands for acceptable data are still being established through trial and error…and, in this case, cries out for standards based on scientific evidence and considered judgement.

(01:13:33) Next, council member Austin Ward spoke up, posing the deep question: if Broomfield dropped its support of Boulder AIR monitors, how would that affect their advocacy position with the CDPHE, considering data about regional VOCs, wildfires, VOCs from cars versus O&G, and other regional air quality questions? It was a rather broad question, which left it open to the respondent how to answer it.

Dr Weisner again stepped up to answer; but as you can see in the video, the public health director, Jason Vahling, stepped into the camera frame, and took up a position behind Dr Weisner, in anticipation of needing to speak up as well.

Dr Weiser’s reply did not address Mr Ward’s question directly. She initially focused on the smoke from wildfires, and how the Boulder AIR stations collected much valuable data about them; but then she shifted to addressing VOCs, and how Boulder AIR “provides redundancies in the system” about measuring them — insinuating that Boulder AIR’s measurements for wildfire smoke and particulates is essentially unnecessary.

Mr Vahling then stressed that they would stay involved in advocacy, adding that Broomfield has a monitor at Rocky Flats. [COMMENT: This is not true; there is no AQ monitoring station in Rocky Flats.] As for informing the public, he referred to the CDPHE ozone alerts tool, which allows individuals to get personal notifications sent via text or email. Therefore, he did not see the need for adding their own ozone alerts using their own monitors, so as not to confuse the public.

[01:27:52] Councilperson Jean Lim spoke next, asking staff about their statement that the state is moving towards PID sensors: were they surprised by this? Because she has heard that “the industry has discredited” these PID sensors. In response, Dr Weisner went into some detail explaining how Ajax measurements work with extrapolation — which was somewhat unclear — but she concluded with the strong statement that for Ajax canisters that are maintained by the state, and if a canister is triggered by an emissions event where a health guideline has been exceeded, then “maybe the state will get to a place…where it be more actionable” — which seemed like a roundabout way of saying that the ECMC might be moving towards unspecified compliance enforcement against well operators who commit pollution violations.

We must imagine this answer was somewhat frustrating to the local Broomfield residents present, who have had to put up with pollution from O&G operations for years.

Ms Lim then brought up a past emissions event on May 23 (2023?) at the Livingston pad, when the operator company, Extraction, had a VOC venting event that lasted for six hours. Consequently, the ECMC filed a violation against Extraction, which is yet pending. Her understanding was that the operator’s sensors (unspecified) failed to capture the event, but that Broomfield’s sensors (again unspecified) did capture it. Her direct question was should they trust that the state’s choice of PID sensors, since there are different types and quality in them? And will the ECMC force the operators to use better sensors?

Dr Weiser answered that operators are required to do “some type of monitoring” because of “Reg 7” (unspecified as to what those are), but she did describe how Ajax Analytics is “working with the state to organize that massive [sic] Reg 7 data.” She notes as well how the state regulators (in the APCD and CDPHE) agree that the data collection methods used by some operators can be of questionable quality and consistency, implying that the rules in Reg 7 about operators use of AQ monitoring need to be strengthened.

There was no mention in this discussion of Boulder AIR monitors at all, which we found quite unfortunate; because this technology has proven itself to be incredibly sensitive. Also, because its data stream can be combined with air stream models, using NOAA wind velocity data, Boulder AIR data can reveal from what direction, and in what amount, a particular pollutant was detected and when. Councilperson Lim did not specify which Broomfield sensors detected the May 23 event, which would have been helpful to know.

Ms Lim pressed on with her questioning, asking if the contract with Ajax Analytical could be renegotiated downwards, since they are not doing as much work this year (2023) as in the previous year (2022). There was about a 90 per cent drop in canisters that were analyzed, noted Ms Lim, and asked the staff if the contract payments should therefore be reduced?

At this point, city manager Hoffman stepped in, who dodged the direct question of cost — if the contractor is doing less work shouldn’t they be paid less? — and launched into a protracted description of how the canisters are arranged gets changed over the different phases of production of well operation….which was hard to understand how this answered the simple and direct question from Councilperson Lim. The only direct answer manager Hoffman gave was that she did not recommend reducing payments to Ajax because, in effect, this data was too important to Broomfield, though her reasoning was, shall we say, somewhat obfuscated.

Ms Lim then reposed her question, saying she was not suggesting the number of canisters be reduced; rather, since they were not being triggered as often, requiring less trips by Ajax to pick them up and have them analyzed, they were doing less work; so why should they be paid the same amount in 2023 if they were doing 90 per cent less work?

Renee Boulliard stepped up to answer this question, noting that the contract is a fixed amount, and recommended not making any changes until the current contract period runs out, and they analyze the data. Ms Boullliard brought up a map of the various AQ monitor sensor locations (both Boulder AIR and Ajax) shown here:

In the graphic above, we believe the two Boulder AIR stations are in red, and that the remaining sensors are all Ajax Analytic canister sensors. The big road running east-west in the middle is the Northwest Parkway, which roughly bisects Broomfield in its middle body, as shown below. Here’s another map that will help to situate the location for the reader:

Ms Lim pressed the staff on yet another loose end, that she is aware that Boulder AIR monitors have detected “yet another” unknown source of pollution that is “a continuing search”…

[01:16:33] This led to an interesting exchange with another staff member, environmental analyst Ryan Rush: