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Officials respond to Broomfield oil & gas health survey

Broomfield officials and researchers collected surveys from 427 residents living various distances from oil and gas developments in late 2021

A website associated with the Independent Petroleum Association of America is criticizing a new study on health impacts of living near oil and gas developments in Broomfield as well as one of the researchers who led the study. 

Energy In Depth, an arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, this week published two posts critical of Broomfield’s study and its lead researchers, Lisa McKenzie, an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Public Health.  

Broomfield officials and researchers collected surveys from 427 residents living various distances from oil and gas developments in late 2021, asking them to rate the frequency of a number of symptoms including nosebleeds, headaches and respiratory issues. The surveys also asked for demographic information, how often people were at home and their level of concern about various environmental issues. 

The survey found that residents living within 1 mile of well pads reported more negative health impacts and that those living within two miles of well pads reported their children reported more negative health impacts than people living more than 2 miles away. 

Energy In Depth criticized the study’s methodology, including not accounting for COVID-19, the potential for participation bias and not accounting for other factors like proximity of homes to highways, a landfill, gas stations, airports and industrial warehouses. 

The group also criticized McKenzie specifically, alleging she “has a long history of publishing research targeting the oil and natural gas industry that was later rejected by public health officials.” The group cited studies by McKenzie in 2014, 2017 and 2018 and quoted the Colorado Department of Public Health Environment raising concerns with her previous research. 

When reached by email, McKenzie said she had no comment on the Energy In Depth post.

Civitas Resources, which operates the wells that were the focus of the Broomfield study, also raised concerns with the survey findings. 

In a statement, Civitas spokesperson Steven Emmen said the study appears to attempt to connect oil and gas with health impacts without clear scientific basis or peer review. 

“The survey findings are in conflict with layers of actual independent air monitoring that have shown no known health risks during oil and gas activity to date,” Emmen said. “Through extensive, onsite air monitoring, we have never seen any prolonged or consistent levels of any air constituent known to be harmful to human health and wellness.”

Broomfield officials and researchers said Thursday the research was approved by the Institutional Review Board for the University of Colorado and they are working on a manuscript to submit for peer review and publication. 

Emmen also referred to Broomfield’s own air quality monitoring program as not measuring pollutants surpassing state health guidelines. 

Broomfield officials did not respond to a request for comment on the Energy In Depth post, but at the Thursday meeting, Broomfield Assistant Director of Strategic Initiatives Andrew Valdez described the city and county’s efforts as “challenging the status quo and pushing back on rules that have allowed for projects like those in Broomfield to come into communities that had very little say on how those projects actually happened.” 

Valdez noted the study doesn’t allow Broomfield to stop ongoing operations. 

“However, the results of this study, coupled with the testimony of our impacted neighbors and residents, will add weight to current and ongoing conversations we have with state leadership, regulators and regional partners in the industry, all of whom we seem to have upset with the publication of this study,” he said. 

When reached for comment, a spokesperson with the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission said the agency received a copy of the Broomfield report and will review it. 

In a statement, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the Broomfield survey underscores the importance of continuing research on the health impacts of living near active, multi-well oil and gas sites, and that it was important because it collected health symptoms from a random sample of residents. 

“Surveys of this nature contribute to the scientific evidence by identifying potential public health concerns that may need further investigation, but there are limitations, as there is with all research,” spokesperson Leah Schleifer said in a statement. “(As) the survey authors note, self-reported outcomes can make it difficult to assess the extent to which perceptions about oil and gas activity influence participation in the survey and responses to survey questions.”