Drilling-Related Air Pollution Alarms Erie Residents

NOAA, CU Study Shows High Levels Of Propane, Ethane In Air

A federal study that shows that levels of propane, ethane and butane in the air around Erie exceed those of Los Angeles is alarming many residents in that Weld County community.

“It’s a huge concern,” said resident Angie Nordstrum. “I ride my bike on the paths around here. We’re outside and active, so it’s a big concern.”

Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado conducted a nearly month long air study at Erie tower.

“We measured a vast area of chemicals,” said Joost de Gouw, one of the scientists. “There were some surprises, including the fact that these small alkanes (compounds associated with natural gas) had very high concentrations.”

de Gouw said propane levels in Erie were 10 times as high as those in suburban Los Angeles.

When asked if they were dangerous, de Gouw replied, “It depends on the concentrations.”

He said the levels found in the air around Erie are not a reason for immediate concern.

“They’re normally thought of as camping fuels,” he said. “They’re not considered toxic.”

But de Gouw said, “What we don’t know is what these concentrations are if you (live/work) right on top of a source.”

“And some of the compounds are a little reactive,” he said. “They can react with sunlight to create ozone.”

That alarms Nordstrum and her friend, April Beach.

“I’m scared,” Beach said. “I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t.”

Beach said she’s been trying to find out how dangerous drilling and fracking are when they happen in a community, close to homes and schools. She called the results of the air study eye-opening.

“These are things that our kids are breathing all the time. The truth is we don’t know what it means, and that’s what’s really scary,” Beach said. “The more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know.”

Beach and several other residents have formed a group called Erie Rising.

“It’s a mom-powered organization that started in Erie, but is now reaching beyond Colorado,” she said. “We’re learning about natural gas operations.”

Beach said she tries not to be an alarmist and not to jump to conclusions.

“But removing myself from that organization and talking to you as a mom, this is very concerning,” she said. “I think it should be not just for people in Erie. We’re all breathing this air. Just because the tests were done at a tower in Erie doesn’t mean this is an Erie-specific issue.”

“I think it warrants further study,” Nordstrum said. “We should stop these processes (drilling and fracking) until we have more information and can guarantee that they are safe.”

Beach said Erie Rising is sponsoring an informational series to help people learn more about the effects of natural gas development near homes and schools.

“We’re bringing in experts, pediatricians and environmental scientists who are not funded by the oil and gas industry to help residents in this area understand the impact,” she said.

Beach added that Erie Rising will screen Dr. Theo Colborn’s film on toxic exposures to natural gas operations at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Erie Community Center at 450 Powers Street.

“We’ll have a pediatrician here to speak about toxic exposures in children after the film,” she said.

Beach said a second informational session, featuring environmental analyst Sonya Lunder, will be held at the Erie Community Center at 6:30 p.m. March 1, and a third will be held at 6:30 p.m. March 8.

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