Research & Commentary: Investigation: Colorado Fracking Sites Are Not Increasing Airborne Health Risks

Published June 30, 2020

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has released the results of an investigation into the air quality around an oil and natural gas wellsite site near the Bella Romero Academy in Greeley. Environmentalists had claimed the wellsite in Weld County was making the air quality near the school unsafe. However, CDPHE reported “all chemicals we measured were below health guideline values for health impacts that are not cancer.”

Further, the report found “breathing the levels of [volatile organic compounds (VOCs)] in the amounts we measured near Bella Romero would not increase the risk of cancer above what the U.S. Environmental protection Agency considers ‘acceptable.'”

“The consultation evaluated both long-term and short-term health risk, using data from the Colorado Air Monitoring Mobile Lab (CAMML), which measured 25 VOCs in the air for more than 1,900 hours in 2019,” a CDPHE press release states. “The consultation concludes that VOC levels were below those known to result in either short-term or long-term non-cancer health impacts, including harmful effects on blood cells and the immune system. Additionally, cancer risks due to VOC levels were below EPA’s limit of unacceptable risk for excess cancer from environmental exposures. The Nov. 5 elevation in benzene was above health-based guidelines for short-term health impacts. The guidelines were exceeded one time, for one hour, in the 1,900 hours of CAMML sampling, and the measured benzene level was well below those associated with harmful health effects in the studies used to establish the guidelines. All other measurements for short-term health impacts were below federal and state health-based guidelines.”

This latest study reinforces a February 2017 CDPHE assessment based on more than 10,000 air samples in areas of Colorado where “substantial” oil and gas operations are located, which concluded “all measured air concentrations…were below short- and long-term ‘safe’ levels of exposure for non-cancer health effects, even for sensitive populations…. Overall, available air monitoring data suggest low risk of harmful health effects from combined exposure to all substances.”

The hydraulic fracturing (also known as “fracking”) revolution has transformed the energy outlook of Colorado (and the United States as a whole) over the past decade. Moreover, the rise of fracked shale gas has been primarily responsible for the United States now enjoying its lowest level of carbon-dioxide emissions since 1989. In fact, since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has increased by 50 percent and oil production has increased by 21 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). EIA also notes fracking now accounts for 51 percent of all U.S. crude oil production.

As these CDPHE air quality assessments show the safety of the fracking process, others show its substantial economic benefits. A December 2016 study conducted  by researchers at the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology determined hydraulic fracturing activity brings $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including “a 7 percent increase in average income, driven by rises in wages and royalty payments, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices.” 

This is not the first time an analysis has concluded that the fracking revolution has spawned numerous economic benefits. A study published in the American Economic Review in April 2017 found “each million dollars of new [oil and gas] production produces $80,000 in wage income and $132,000 in royalty and business income within a county where drilling is taking place. Within 100 miles, one million dollars of new production generates $257,000 in wages and $286,000 in royalty and business income.”

A 2018 report from the Consumer Energy Alliance backs up the positive economic impact of fracking in the Centennial State, detailing how lower natural gas prices due to fracking has led to $12.4 billion in consumer savings on energy in the decade from 2006 to 2016.

Hydraulic fracturing enables the cost-effective extraction of once-inaccessible oil and natural gas deposits. These energy sources are abundant, inexpensive, environmentally safe, and can ensure the United States remains a leading energy producer for years to come.

Therefore, Colorado policymakers should refrain from placing unnecessary burdens on the natural gas and oil industries, which are safe and positively impact the Centennial State’s economy.

The following documents provide more information about hydraulic fracturing and fossil fuels.

The Importance of Affordable and Abundant Oil and Natural Gas for Colorado
This report from the Consumer Energy Alliance examined how the shale revolution across Colorado has provided benefits to Centennial State residents by boosting disposable income and revitalizing communities, saving residential users $4.3 billion, and commercial and industrial users $8 billion.

America’s Progress at Risk: An Economic Analysis of a Ban on Fracking and Federal Leasing for Natural Gas and Oil Development
The study from the American Petroleum Institute (conducted by economic modeling firm OnLocation)  warns that banning federal leasing and fracking on public and private lands, which some presidential candidates have proposed, would cost up to 7.5 million American jobs in 2022 alone, lead to a cumulative GDP loss of $7.1 trillion by 2030, slash household incomes by $5,400 annually, increase household energy costs by more than $600 per year and reduce farm incomes by 43 percent due to higher energy costs. If a ban is enacted, the U.S. would flip from being a net exporter of oil and petroleum products to importing more than 40 percent of supplies by 2030

What If…Hydraulic Fracturing Were Banned? (2020 Edition)
This study from the Global Energy Institute at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says a ban on fracking in the United States would be catastrophic for our economy. Their analysis shows that if such a ban were imposed in 2021, by 2025 it would eliminate 19 million jobs and reduce U.S. Gross Domestic Product by $7.1 trillion. Tax revenue at the local, state, and federal levels would decline by nearly a combined $1.9 trillion. Natural gas prices would leap by 324 percent, causing household energy bills to more than quadruple. By 2025, motorists would pay twice as much at the pump for gasoline as oil prices spike to $130 per barrel, while less domestic energy production would also mean less energy security.

Debunking Four Persistent Myths about Hydraulic Fracturing
This Heartland Institute Policy Brief by Policy Analyst Timothy Benson and former Heartland communications intern Linnea Lueken outlines the basic elements of the fracking process and then refutes the four most widespread fracking myths, providing lawmakers and the public with the research and data they need to make informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing.

Increasing the Oil and Gas Setback Requirement to 2,500-feet in Colorado: The Economic and Fiscal Impacts of 2018 Proposition 112
This study from the Common Sense Policy Roundtable evaluates the economic and fiscal impacts of the proposed Ballot Proposition 112. It concludes it would lead to the loss of over 100,000 jobs and up to $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenue through 2030, with $258 million in revenue being lost in the first year alone. This revenue goes to pay for schools, road maintenance, public safety, and other municipal services.

Natural Gas Savings to End-users: 2008-2018 A Technical Briefing Paper
This report prepared by Kleinhenz & Associates for the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program shows increased oil and natural gas production from hydraulic fracturing saves American families $203 billion annually on gasoline and electricity bills. This breaks down to $2,500 in savings per family per year.

The U.S. Leads the World in Clean Air: The Case for Environmental Optimism
This paper from the Texas Public Policy Foundation examines how the United States achieved robust economic growth while dramatically reducing emissions of air pollutants. The paper states that these achievements should be celebrated as a public policy success story, but instead the prevailing narrative among political and environmental leaders is one of environmental decline that can only be reversed with a more stringent regulatory approach. Instead, the paper urges for the data to be considered and applied to the narrative.

The Social Benefits of Fossil Fuels
This Heartland Policy Brief by Joseph Bast and Peter Ferrara documents the many benefits from the historic and still ongoing use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are lifting billions of people out of poverty, reducing all the negative effects of poverty on human health, and vastly improving human well-being and safety by powering labor-saving and life-protecting technologies, such as air conditioning, modern medicine, and cars and trucks. They are dramatically increasing the quantity of food humans produce and improving the reliability of the food supply, directly benefiting human health. Further, fossil fuel emissions are possibly contributing to a “Greening of the Earth,” benefiting all the plants and wildlife on the planet.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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