RIFLE — A new state-run program created to field and respond to health concerns related to oil and gas operations has started to receive complaints.
As of Thursday evening, the new Oil and Gas Health Information and Response Program had fielded 20 complaints, according to Dr. Daniel Vigil, who is heading the program within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The program began on Oct. 15, allowing people to file a health concern and access information. Information includes "unbiased" staff reviews of existing research on the health impacts related to oil and gas development, said Vigil, who was in Rifle on Thursday for several meetings related to the oil and gas industry.
In addition, a mobile air monitoring program is currently being designed and is expected to be completed in the spring. The air monitoring station will deploy to areas based on the level of potential health impact, history of oil and gas operations in the area and the number of health related complaints.
The health response program, which Vigil said is the first of its kind in the country, was one of nine approved recommendations from a task force created by Gov. John Hickenlooper as part of a compromise to avoid multiple oil and gas-related ballot issues in 2014.
The program was in response to many citizen concerns about the possible health effects related to oil and gas emissions.
Some of concerns were voiced Thursday evening at the monthly Garfield County Energy Advisory Board meeting, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent reported (http://bit.ly/1ILZcmw).
For Stella Ramos, who lives near Spring Creek in the Parachute area, oil and gas operations have become an unwanted part of life. Odor, noise and dust from vehicle traffic are regular nuisances, Ramos said, and even more troubling are the unknown health impacts.
Ramos' husband, who handled reporting oil and gas issues, died in September from throat cancer, three months after he was diagnosed with the disease, she said.
Ramos said she suspects breathing air in an area with oil and gas development could have contributed to his rapid decline in health.
The real problem, she added, is the lack of knowledge regarding the health impacts related to the industry. She questioned how a regular physician would be able to accurately diagnose a problem without the knowledge needed to track it back to oil and gas operations.
And the new program does not alleviate her concerns, Ramos said.
Vigil, who heard from several concerned residents Thursday evening, said he understands the worry and in some cases frustration.
While there has been research into specific issues, there is little to no research looking at the issue in its entirety, Vigil said. The new program aims to provide a more complete look in the future.
Speaking specifically to Ramos' concern, Vigil said doctors are capable of diagnosing ailments and can recommend a specialist for further evaluation. If a person uses the help line or website, the program could even help with finding a specialist.
However, the program initially will collect data, including health records if access is given by the person filing the concern. That information will be mapped and used to establish a baseline for data.
In cases where there is believed to be an immediate health impact, Vigil said program officials will coordinate with other agencies, such as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, to respond to the issue.