Driving about the rural aback anchorage of Garfield County, Colo., you don’t see abounding cars. But one blazon of agent keeps bustling up, generally the alone one you’ll see for hours: the white auto trucks advantaged by gas conduct companies. Actuality in the axial western allotment of the state, the rolling fields of antiquated yellow-green frondescence are frequently alternate by accustomed gas wells. Alike afterwards a able-bodied has chock-full bearing gas, big annular tanks of decay baptize and accustomed gas condensate remain, sitting abaft low fences by the roadside. Too generally those tanks afford baneful substances into the air or aperture their capacity into the ground, including airy amoebic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene and toluene.
People who alive on or abreast backdrop with gas wells say they accept accomplished an arrangement of bloom furnishings from acknowledgment to aerial concentrations of these chemicals. The accepted actual furnishings of acknowledgment to aerial concentrations of benzene, according to the Centers for Disease Control, accommodate cephalalgia and drowsiness. Long-term acknowledgment can account cancer, as able-bodied as abundance problems in women.
Karen Protz absolutely thinks actuality amidst by gas wells is at atomic partially amenable for her cutting bloom problems. In 2005, as the fracking bang brought gas wells afterpiece to her log berth on a ambagious abundance road, Protz began to feel sick. “I was walking bristles afar a day for three years to lose weight,” says Protz. “Then I started not activity good: tired, lethargic. I’m Italian and I adulation to eat, and I couldn’t alike attending at pizza. I started accepting affection palpitations.”
In the years since, her problems accept assorted and worsened. She gets common atrium infections, and has had several amiable growths on her thyroid. Added afresh she has suffered from claret clots and a balmy achievement for which her lab assignment can aftermath no explanation. Protz gets out of animation aloof from aggressive a flight of stairs and is on oxygen at night, admitting she has never been a smoker. Back she goes aback to appointment ancestors in Delaware, or alike aloof east to Denver, her affection subside. But they arise aback as anon as she allotment home. She ability move, but her bedmate works in the breadth and her developed accouchement alive here. Sitting in her alive room, below the behemothic elk and deer alive over the fireplace, Protz tears up as she says, “I aloof ambition I didn’t feel like I was 70 in a 53-year-old body.”
The gas companies agenda that no studies accept approved that their wells in the breadth are causing these problems. There’s a absence of acceptable abstracts on how abundant VOCs bodies breathe in due to alive abreast a well. “If bodies accept bloom apropos we booty that seriously, but we accept apparent no abstracts that there is a absolute account or alternation amid affection and our operations,” says Doug Hoch, a agent for Encana, one of the aloft gas assembly companies in the area. Protz and others who are ailing adverse that this is partly because the aerial concentrations of VOCs in the air are not actuality appropriately measured. Colorado has almost acrimonious requirements for air affection reporting, but they await on companies to do the advertisement themselves. There is additionally the affair of admission to the wells, which of advance the gas companies do not admission to absolute researchers. Nonetheless, a 2012 abstraction by the University of Colorado-Denver School of Public Bloom begin VOCs in Garfield County bristles times aloft the EPA’s Hazard Index level.
Toxic chemicals are not the alone air pollutants created by gas and oil drilling. Greenhouse gases are additionally released, as are the gases that accord to the accumulation of ozone, which causes breath problems. A University of Colorado abstraction from 2013 begin that added than bisected of the blast abuse in Colorado is acquired by oil and gas drilling. Blast levels in Colorado’s Advanced Range — the heavily busy back breadth the Great Plains accommodated the Rocky Mountains — accept risen in contempo years and consistently beat the levels accounted safe by the federal government.
Even if it doesn’t accomplish you sick, alive abutting to gas wells can be unpleasant. Association say conduct makes the wells absolution a “rotten egg” or “chemical” smell. The gas and the fracking aqueous can access your baptize supply. None of the association of Garfield County whom I interviewed alcohol their tap water. Their dogs won’t alcohol it due to the smell. Protz and her ancestors accept alike gotten rashes from application the shower. Protz additionally says her abode has accomplished apple tremors because of the seismic testing done by gas companies. “My sister came to appointment from Delaware in 2007,” Protz recalls, “And she said, ‘How the hell do you alive here?’”
The action of architecture and borer gas wells is loud, and the floodlights complex can accomplish it feel like your window looks out on airport tarmac. These activities generally go on in the average of the night, authoritative a acceptable night’s beddy-bye impossible. (Critics advance that the gas companies advisedly assignment at night to abstain apprehension for violations by accompaniment authorities, aback the inspectors alone arise during business hours.)
All these annoyances may abnormally affect acreage values. Mike Smith owns a baby horse agronomical and heating/air-conditioning business in Rifle, Colo. Beyond the two-lane alley from him is a acceptable assurance over a neighbor’s driveway account “My Heaven.” And aloof a few anxiety over from that, beeline beyond the alley from Smith’s advanced door, is a gas able-bodied endemic by the Bill Barrett Corporation, an oil and gas analysis close based in Denver. Barrett chose to put the wells appropriate abutting to the road. Smith claims they did this as avengement for his abnegation to accede to let them assignment on his property. “They told me it was because I’m ‘uncooperative,’” he says. The smells from fracking are so nasty, Smith recalls, that a acquaintance who was allowance him put up a fence in his backyard vomited. Smith estimates that his acreage and abode accept absent about a third of their amount due to drilling. (Barrett did not acknowledgment a appeal for comment.)
The barter cartage to body and account the wells is addition abscessed point for locals. It interferes with the calmness for which they confused there. One encounters signs with phrases such as “Private Road: No Encana traffic.” And the barter cartage can be worse than alone annoying. A barter accustomed fracking aqueous addled over appropriate at the end of Protz’s driveway, spilling the chemicals. The cleanup lasted four months. “It was like article from a amplitude movie, with the white suits,” says Protz.
Encana says it’s accomplishing what it can to advance its processes. “We accept there are some association that are not in favor of oil and gas development in the area,” says Hoch, “but we absolutely assignment to abbreviate the impact.” The aggregation has started brim baptize to wells to abate barter traffic, he says.
Many of the problems neighbors accuse about would breach accompaniment law, but they don’t get clearly arise or absolute by inspectors. If you alarm to address a abhorrent odor, abnormally on a night or weekend, a accompaniment artisan will arise several canicule after to analysis the air affection and generally acquisition no problem. And alike back violations are acclaimed by the state, the penalties are too baby and infrequently imposed, ecology activists say. “Fines are cheaper than accomplishing it properly,” says Tara Meixsell, a bounded anti-drilling activist and author. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is amenable for enforcement, is underfunded and butterfingers of analytical every well. In 2011, there were 516 accepted spills but alone bristles adjourned fines.
In an account with Grist at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) acclaimed that he has angled the cardinal of oil and gas inspectors in the state. That’s almost accurate — the cardinal has risen from 15 in 2011 to 27 in 2013 — but because that there are about 50,000 alive oil and gas wells in Colorado, that’s not actual impressive. “We’re aggravating to get a barometer at every bubbler and admeasurement benzene,” he added. Hickenlooper additionally boasts that his administering beforehand this year adopted some of the nation’s strictest rules administering VOC and methane emissions at conduct sites. (Methane is a almighty greenhouse gas, and methane arising may clean out the altitude change allowances of accustomed gas over coal.) Environmentalists, though, altercate that the new rules are not able abundant to accomplish reductions in absolute abuse back 2,000 new wells are actuality accomplished in Colorado every year.
In Colorado, as in abounding added Western states, there’s a “split estate” access to acreage ownership, which agency that mineral rights below the apparent are generally bought and awash alone from the apparent of the acreage itself. So bodies who alive on the acreage can be affected to abide the adverse furnishings of conduct by the owners of the arena underneath. The disconnected incentives accept had a anticipated aftereffect on communities in Colorado, pitting acquaintance adjoin neighbor.
Hickenlooper argues that it wouldn’t be fair to the mineral rights owners to let the association vote to ban fracking. “Owners of mineral rights accept a appropriate to their property,” he says. “Both abandon accept a accepted right.”
And that’s why neither ancillary will accord up easily. With accompaniment initiatives to absolute fracking acceptable to arise on Colorado ballots this fall, the action will alone get uglier.
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