A Local Doctor’s Take on the Dangers of Oil and Gas Development in our Neighborhoods

Dr. David Nolan, a member of our Broomfield community, speaks up about the lack of attention given to valuable research on the dangers of residential fracking, and warns about the potential future danger this ignorance poses.

My name is Dr. David Nolan, a gastroenterologist working with Colorado Permanente Physician’s Group (CPMG) and Kaiser Permanente.  I completed medical school at Chicago Medical School and post-graduate training at the University of California, Irvine in Internal Medicine.  After completing a year as chief resident, I went on to complete a fellowship in Gastroenterology before moving to Colorado to start a life here.  I have been a resident of Broomfield for the past 4 years, and I love my neighborhood and the people who live here.

I became aware of the issues with residential fracking about 2 years ago after receiving a letter ‘notifying’ me that my mineral rights were being sold.  One of the nurses who works with me who is very involved in this community introduced me to the works of the CDPHE and COGCC (acronyms that were completely foreign to me at the time).  Since then, I have become very familiar with the literature associated with fracking, and more so the risks therein.  As such, I have been extremely disappointed in the physician involvement and leadership of these organizations and feel that the data has been completely misrepresented as safe.  On reading the summary statement from the COGCC as well as the articles cited within, I realized quickly that the process of fracking was not safe, and the very best that could be said was that it did not have enough data to conclude that it was harmful.

Since then, there have been several high-impact articles published from powerhouse academic institutions.  All of these articles have been well written and peer reviewed, and unfortunately all show significant medical risk.  The most confounding of which are those demonstrating an up to 4 fold increased risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia in people living within 1000 ft of oil and gas operations.  More recently this has been backed up by a study from the University of Colorado showing an 8 fold increased lifetime risk of cancer in those closest to oil and gas operations (within 500 ft – the proposed distance set forth by our COGCC).  These are obviously the most concerning articles since they deal with life-threatening cancers, but there are also very well written and well powered retrospective studies demonstrating increased risk for low birth weight infants, asthma exacerbations as well as nose bleeds, psychiatric and gastrointestinal illnesses.

The quality of this data is not in question.  The value of retrospective studies is in identifying environmental risk factors to raise concern and promote further research.  In this situation, the mere idea of conducting randomized trials on unsuspecting people living within range of these operations would be unethical and completely inappropriate (imagine knowingly subjecting a pregnant mother to volatile organic chemicals known to cause cancer).  As such, the data is already sound and without a doubt demonstrates risk.  This fact has been ignored by the COGCC and dismissed by its physician leadership without any substantial/independent peer reviewed studies to the contrary.  For those familiar with medical research, this practice is barbaric.  A pharmaceutical company proceeding with a drug with the same level of harmful data would be shut down and taken off the market.  Even if significant benefit was found from such a drug, it would require significant INFORMED consent – an ideal that the oil and gas industry has not been held.

My greatest fear is that the harms of fracking are going to be dismissed until people start dying.  Much like the tobacco industry in the 60s and 70s, this data is being ignored by a giant industry unwilling to put forth the effort to commit to public safety and continue to put profits above our health.  We need to continue to push to BAN residential fracking.  There is no safe distance within our neighborhoods.  Even 2500 ft puts those at harm within the highest risk (less than 1km which is approximately 3500 ft) of respiratory illness, cancer, birth defects and ultimately death.