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Lawmakers to consider new health rules for oil and gas drilling

2:48 PM, Mar 6, 2007   |    comments
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Over the past 10 years, she said, she has suffered weakness, nauseous and burning eyes, and her granddaughter was born with congenital defects.

Two of her friends with a well in their back yard died of cancer, she said, and she was forced to sell her horse, a paint named Lady, when the horse's eyes got bloody and her hair started falling out.

"It's the benzene," she said, citing one of the 245 chemicals experts have tied to the gas industry in western Colorado.

On Wednesday, the Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources Committee will take up a measure (House Bill 1223) that would require the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to set rules by next July to protect public health in oil and gas operations and bar drilling until those rules have been followed.

The bill would also require the commission to work with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to investigate complaints, which residents said have been largely ignored.

Rep. Kathleen Curry (D-Gunnison) said the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission got conflicting orders from lawmakers to promote the development of oil and gas and protect public health.

"The state Department of Public Health is the state agency with expertise in public health. They need to be move involved in protecting our air and water quality today and into the future," Curry said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the oil and gas commission did not return a call seeking comment.

Last year, the oil and gas commission issued 5,904 permits, double the number two years earlier.

Curry said the commission has no one on staff or the commission with a background in protecting public health.

Curry said more than 1,000 complaints have been filed over the past seven years.

Jack Rigg, spokesman for BP, one of the largest natural gas producers in Colorado, said the federal government has warned about benzene's harmful effects, but there are questions about the amount of exposure people have suffered.

"Benzene is not good stuff. You don't want to inhale it or drink it. If this bill puts protection on that, that's a good thing," he said.

Theo Colborn of Paonia, a professor at the University of Florida and president of the Paonia-based Endocrine Disruption Exchange, told lawmakers her research has turned up 245 chemicals that have short- and long-term health impacts. She said the state needs to take a bigger role in protecting the water and air from adverse impact of drilling.

(Copyright 2007. The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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