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Garfield Co. Residents Worried about Water, Soil, Air Quality

October 14, 2010

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Clean water, soil and air are the top priorities for Garfield County residents in connection with proposed new natural gas wells in Battlement Mesa. A new survey conducted for the Western Colorado Area Health Education Center found nearly 60 percent of Garfield County residents think soil and water contamination is their biggest concern in connection with the proposed drilling, with just over 20 percent worried about air pollution.

Paul Light lives in Battlement Mesa. He retired there five years ago, planning to enjoy the outdoor recreation in the area, he says.

"We're in a beautiful area, which six years ago had much cleaner air and clearer skies. I've spent much more time on environmental issues in the last six years than I have on traveling or fishing."

The Colorado School of Public Health recently conducted an assessment of the drilling plans, and discovered that the drilling was likely to adversely impact air quality and increase truck traffic in the area. Water contamination was found to be less of a threat.

The school recommended different ways to mitigate potential health risks. Roxana Ritter headed up the research team and says other counties could learn from Garfield County's experience.

"We think that the method of using a health impact assessment as a tool certainly can be applied in many different areas. The ultimate goal is to provide information so that we can decrease the impact as the project goes forward."

Ritter's study was commissioned by the county in response to a request by those living near Battlement Mesa.

Light met with fellow concerned citizens after the survey results were released Wednesday afternoon. He says the study has implications beyond the local area.

"The industry, of course, is very concerned about it -- not just for what it means in Battlement Mesa -- but what it may mean across the country, in terms of the health concerns of citizens who live where drilling is being proposed."

The county is accepting public comments on the health impacts of the drilling through Wednesday, Oct. 20.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO