Residents worry about 'irritating' odors emanating from oil and gas drilling site near Erie

Posted at 4:46 AM, May 28, 2017

ERIE, Colo. -- Several residents in Erie’s Vista Ridge and Vista Pointe neighborhoods are questioning the safety of chemicals being used in drilling operations at Crestone Peak Resources’ Waste Connections site in unincorporated Weld County.

Since drilling operations began earlier this month, several have noticed a potent and irritating odor wafting into their neighborhoods.

“I would best describe it as paint thinner or gasoline,” said Jennifer Fick, an eight-year resident of that community. “It’s as if someone was holding a can of either one under my nose.”

“It just smelled toxic,” said Adrian Pitts.

“It’s a pronounced chemical smell,” said Geoff Deakin, “like an interstate truck stop. You’ve got that rubber smell from hot tires, diesel and exhaust.”

Fick said she first smelled the odor on Saturday, May 20.

“It makes my sinuses hurt,” she said, “and that day, it caused a burning in the back of my throat.”

Fick, a veterinarian, said she worries about the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) being released into the air, that she and her neighbors are inhaling.

She said she contacted the state health department.

“The person I spoke with said they have one mobile (lab) unit to do air quality testing within the State of Colorado,” she said. “They’re trying to mobilize it to get it here.”

That lab, which is part of the health department’s Oil & Gas Health Information and Response Program (OGHIR) was deployed twice in March to measure VOCs possibly being released from two other drilling sites in the area, the Woolley-Sosa and Erie Champlin sites.

The resulting Health Risk Evaluation report, posted on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s website states there is no ongoing health hazard.

“The evaluation indicated that all air concentrations of individual and combined VOCs were below non-cancer health based reference values,” the report stated. “Cancer risks estimates for benzene, ethylbenzene, and the two VOCs combined were less than one in one hundred thousand, which is generally considered to be within the acceptable risk range.”

The report also stated that “there may be other substances that were not measured that may contribute to the respiratory irritation and odor concerns reported by residents.”

What’s not known is if the same chemicals are being used at the Waste Connections site and whether the testing was done when the odors were at their peak.

Vista Ridge resident Dominic Maes has been keeping track of the complaints on a map.

He said there have been 32 related to the odor at the Waste Connections site in the last 11 days.

“It’s a nuisance,” he said. “The complaints should be enough for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to tell them to stop.”

Maes also mapped the earlier odor and noise complaints near the Woolley-Sosa site.

In its report, the state said it logged concerns from 82 residents about odor and noise from the Woolley-Sosa and Champlain sites.

“The number and frequency of health concerns reported in association with the Woolley-Sosa and Erie Champlain sites are much higher than other sites in the state,” the report said.

Delay in Response

Deakin, a member of the Erie Board of Trustees, said when people complain, there’s a delay in response.

“The initial feedback,” he said, “is that you’ll get a response in five to ten days.”

Deakin told Denver7 that the strong odors will last 30 or 40 minutes and then dissipate.

“We can smell it on our front porch,” he said, “but inspectors don’t smell it because they’re not getting out here quickly enough.”

Deakin added that he has seen the data sheets on the drilling.

“It’s not perfume that they’re injecting,” he said, “so what is it that’s coming over here? They describe it as oil based mud, but what is that?”

Several residents expressed frustration that the chemicals being used are “proprietary” so they’re not being told what those chemicals are, yet they’re having to breathe them.

Deakin also said the town of Erie is doing its own sound and chemical emissions testing, “to back up the citizen complaints."

Contacting Crestone Peak Resources

Denver7 reached out to Crestone Peak Resources to ask about the odors.

The phone number for community relations, listed on the company’s website, was not in service.

An email to the department has not yet been returned.

If the company replies, we will update this story.