Denver – A state House panel on Tuesday passed a bill to create a “scientific committee” and study the health impacts of fracking in six counties costing $700,000, despite concerns the study will likely be biased and the price tag is predicted to escalate.
House Bill 1297 was passed by the House Health, Insurance & Environment Committee over the objections of Republican lawmakers who argued that the title is misleading because the study is not limited to health issues – its intent is to assess “quality of life” impacts.
“Quality of life is an extremely subjective term, it can and does mean something different to everyone,” said Rep. Lois Landgraf (R-Fountain), who offered an amendment to narrow the study to health concerns.
The bill’s sponsor Rep. Joann Ginal (D-Fort Collins) said that hydraulic fracturing used to develop oil and gas affects behavioral, physical and emotional health of people because of noise, lights and other issues.
Ginal said the term would be defined by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the committee would primarily consist of individuals who have a masters or doctorate degree in public health, environmental health, toxicology or behavioral social science.
The three-year study would include a survey of randomly selected individuals followed by telephone interviews and possibly a review of medical records.
Critics contend that the study would be based on a bias against oil and gas development because the surveys are more likely to be returned by individuals who have complaints or fears of fracking rather than those who don’t have concerns.
The Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce opposed the measure because the study unfairly targets one industry that is a key economic driver in Colorado.
Environmentalists have successfully passed bans or moratoria in four cities and a county, and now are pushing ballot initiatives to limit fracking in communities and a statewide ban.
Despite Ginal’s objections, the committee amended the bill to add Arapahoe and Broomfield counties to the original study sample of Weld, Larimer, Adams and Boulder counties. She cited the increased cost of the study and said no one from Arapahoe County participated in stakeholder meetings over the past year.
“I do not believe that the health risks and interests in Arapahoe County are any less than some of the other counties,” said Rep. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora). “I know that this is a huge area of concern for them.”
Rep. Dianne Primavera (D-Broomfield) backed adding her community to resolve issues that led voters to narrowly pass a five-year moratorium on fracking in the November election.
“Anti-fracking people believe it’s a quality of life issue,” said Primavera, who hopes the study will either validate fears of health impacts or debunk them.
The bill passed on a 6-5 partisan vote over Republican lawmakers’ objections, and now advances to the House Appropriations Committee.
“I’d like to include every county in the state but unfortunately we don’t have the money to do that,” Ginal said. “I can’t increase the budget anymore to make (the bill) just get killed.”