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Tour de Frack: Impacts of Fracking in Colorado

Posted by Larry Moore, MD on November 11, 2017
Larry Moore, MD

PSR member Dr. Larry Moore recently spoke on a "Tour de Frack" that outlined the threat of fracking allowed within five hundred feet of peoples' homes and within 1,000 feet of schools. Read his story below on health impacts of fracking from leaking VOC's and ozone in Colorado.

What could be more pleasant than sitting on the grass of a grade school playground on a sunny fall Colorado day! Expansive cultivated farmland as far as the eye can see with the front-range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains visible to the west. Then the vision blurs to the realization that we are located in one of the most heavily drilled and fracked oil and gas fields on the planet: Weld County, Colorado. It is gut-wrenching to know that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has just issued the permit for drilling up to 16 wells on a well pad site located just 1000 feet from the front door of the elementary school where I am sitting. Worse yet, the school playground surrounds the school building and the property line runs up to within 500 feet of the permitted drilling site!

Click to enlargeImagine your children and grandchildren running, tussling happily with each other, and just 500 feet away the oil and gas development occurs 24/7, showering a plume of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's), including the BTEX* complex of toxic compounds, into the clear air and blue sky surrounding this idyllic school setting. These young students and their teachers will be exposed five days a week, indoors and outdoors, to varying levels of these compounds. The State of Colorado, in its own lack of regulatory wisdom, has condoned this exact scenario even though there is no basis for the arbitrary one-thousand-foot cutoff.

We know that there is absolutely no safe level of exposure to benzene due to risk of cancer (World Health Organization and EPA concur). Yet benzene at some level will intermittently be released. I cannot sit by quietly and just watch such a public health menace silently unfold. Surely we have the wisdom and the courage to speak out about the sadness and the folly of what is in reality an unmonitored dangerous exposure for one of the most susceptible groups of people, our children. We know from epidemiologic studies that the closer one lives to active oil and gas production, and the higher the density of that production, the greater the incidence of serious health issues. This includes neural tube and congenital heart abnormalities in newborns, increases in asthma exacerbations, and hospitalization rates for cardiac and neurologic diagnoses. 

Tour de Frack at Bella Romero School

If we limit oil and gas development, renewable energy sources will be built and with storage can replace carbon-based fuel sources. Yet the power of big oil and gas corporations, with seemingly endless capital resources, overwhelms reason in a county with over 17,000 active oil and gas wells already.

As a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility I spoke out during the Tour de Frack, supported by 350Colorado. Ninety-two curious, amazed, and now saddened citizens of the state joined me viewing two sites alongside some of the most incredible natural beauty on the planet.

One site with active wells was located adjacent to an athletic field and high school building. As a health care provider living and working in Colorado for the past 40 years, I have come to love this part of the country. But I am seriously saddened by the fact that Colorado, and several other states, have taken away the power of local people to manage our own destiny and well-being. It is imperative that more of us find our voices and persist in raising them together, speaking truth to power if we are to hand to our children and grandchildren a healthy community, a healthy state, on a healthy planet. Today it has become all too clear for those of us on this tour how perilously close to losing all of this we have now come.

*BTEX-Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene and Xylene. Benzene is a known carcinogen. The other three are toxic to the nervous system, brain, kidney, liver, reproductive system and lungs.


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