State Finds Elevated Benzene Levels Next to Extraction’s Operations Near Bella Romero Academy

In a press release today, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) announced that benzene measurements taken by the State’s mobile air quality monitoring lab next to Extraction Oil and Gas operations at Bella Romero 4-8 Academy in Greeley exceeded federal health guidelines on Nov. 5. The measured benzene level on Nov. 5 was 10.24 parts per billion (ppb) at Bella Romero and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s (ATSDR) short-term health-based guideline is 9 ppb.

According to the CDPHE, “The state health department does not believe people were harmed by this single elevated measurement but is taking swift action to investigate the cause of the elevated level and conduct additional monitoring.” Colorado Rising states in its press release that, “The World Health Organization says there is no safe level of benzene exposure.”

The CDPHE states that the reading was taken at Bella Romero Academy which is 1200 feet from Extraction operations. Colorado Rising states that Extraction operations are just 720 feet from the school playground. CDPHE and COGCC are taking the following steps:

  1. “Sending the air monitoring lab back to the school to collect additional measurements. The state will report any other elevated benzene levels as soon as data can be validated.
  2. Investigating possible sources of the benzene and steps to avoid further elevated levels of benzene.
  3. Reviewing additional air monitoring data being collected by Extraction from the vicinity of the school. This includes employing an independent consultant to verify air monitoring data from on-site and in nearby communities.
  4. Aggressively moving forward to implement the mandates set forward in the new oil and gas law, SB 19-181. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is implementing tighter controls on emissions in the pre-production phase of oil and gas development. The Air Quality Control Commission will enact rules to reduce emissions during all phases of oil and gas development.
  5. Working directly with the school and community members to ensure they understand what this elevated measurement means and what the state and operator are doing in response.
  6. Developing a new process for flagging and reporting higher emission levels within 72 hours, much earlier than the current timeline, in which the state provides a full monitoring report a few weeks after the mobile laboratory moves to a new site.”

Anne Lee Foster, Communications Director for Colorado Rising said, “Letting folks know after their children have already been harmed is wholly insufficient. We call on Governor Jared Polis to shut down all sites within 2000 ft of homes and schools. The recent CDPHE oil and gas health study, numerous complaints filed with the state, this data, and the heaps of other studies that demonstrate negative health impacts from oil and gas extraction make it necessary for the COGCC to stop operations within 2000ft if they are to fulfill the law under SB-181.”

The State press release describes benzene health impacts as follows: “Exposure to benzene at levels higher than was measured in the one-time spike can cause short-term health effects like headaches, skin and eye irritation, and respiratory issues. At much higher levels than in this particular event, it can also cause short-term health effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, tremors, confusion, and unconsciousness. No statistically significant increased risk of cancer or other long-term health effects can be predicted by a single measurement above the health-based guideline.”