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Clarity Hard To Come By After Fort Collins Studies Fracking's Impact

Stephanie Paige Ogburn
An anti-fracking sign sits at the entrance to the Fort Collins presentation of its fracking impact study results.

Two studies commissioned by the city of Fort Collins to study the impacts of hydraulic fracturing failed to offer clear answers as to the controversial practice's impact.

The results of the studies were presented to the public June 4, along with results of a short-term air monitoring survey.

The studies were instigated after voters passed a five-year moratorium on the practice. (That moratorium has been overturned and the case is under appeal.)

"I think at least a study would need to look at Larimer County and the question, 'is there enough of a field of data to do an additional study?'"

As researchers presented the results of their review, those in the crowd seemed unimpressed with the results. In part, this was because the answers to what seem like clear questions were hard to come by.

One study aimed to answer the question of whether property values were negatively affected by fracking.

Those researchers found a paucity of peer-reviewed literature and data on the topic, with just six studies nationwide that relied on empirical data. One study in Weld County found low-level adverse impacts on property values, and others found mixed positive and negative effects.

Lucinda Smith, who directs the city's department of environmental services, said the lack of data makes evaluating property value impacts challenging.

"I think at least a study would need to look at Larimer County and the question, 'is there enough of a field of data to do an additional study?'" said Smith.

The city also commissioned a review of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on health. The reviewer, Stephen Foster, largely ruled out potential impacts on soil and water quality because those are unlikely to occur unless there is an accident.

Foster focused on possible air quality impacts to health, which are more likely. He concluded it would be difficult to tease out the effects, however, due to the fact that other sources of air pollution also exist in the area.

Credit Stephanie Paige Ogburn / KUNC
A sign held by a concerned citizen reads 'Fraccidents Happen.' Most comments reflected caution over fracking in or around Fort Collins.

Another researcher, Cassie Archuleta, presented findings from a short-term air quality study examining two sites in an old oil field in northeast Fort Collins and two sites in downtown, far from the oil field.

Levels of benzene, a carcinogen, were higher downtown, probably because of vehicles and other pollution sources.

"Benzene is one of those pollutants that is everywhere," she said.

Archuleta failed to find detectable levels of hydrogen sulfide, another pollutant, at the oil field sites. Overall, the downtown sites were not less polluted than those in the oil field.

In response, commenters from the crowd worried about the safety of food and the risk of accidents. After seeing air quality data showing that Platteville, in the middle of the oil patch, has much higher benzene levels, citizens also expressed concern about additional pollution if oil and gas development arrived at a higher level.

The city's Lucinda Smith said they will be taking the questions and concerns raised at this meeting and using it to create a set of answers to those and other frequently asked questions.

Fort Collins also plans to collect additional baseline data, she said.

"We will be doing some additional air sampling and some groundwater baseline sampling."

The city is also awaiting the decision from the court of appeals on its fracking moratorium which was struck down but is now being appealed.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn has been reporting from Colorado for more than five years, primarily from the Western Slope.
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