Colorado health professionals: The oil and gas industry needs to take a step back

Drilling operators deny ample scientific evidence of harm to Colorado communities

September 23, 2020 11:45 am

A fossil fuel extraction site is visible near a home in Broomfield on June 24, 2020. (Andy Bosselman for Colorado Newsline)

By Velma L. Campbell, Cory D. Carroll, Karen K. Dike and Jan Douglas

When entering the medical field, we vowed to always do whatever it takes to improve and protect the health of our patients. Little did we know that in order to do that, advocacy was needed outside our medical offices. As clinicians we know that the oil and gas operations in Colorado are compromising the health and safety of all Coloradans when drilling near population centers.

The health of human beings should not be compromised to make a profit. It should not be compromised by toxic drilling near homes that is detrimental to those living there. Human health certainly should not be compromised because the industry that is performing these harmful practices wants to stall and demand unreasonable proof before putting health first, while denying the ample scientific evidence that these operations are detrimental to public health.

The oil and gas industry has been treating the health and lives of communities surrounding their operations as expendable and treating science as a partisan issue.
The oil and gas industry has been treating the health and lives of communities surrounding their operations as expendable and treating science as a partisan issue. Hundreds of Coloradans who live near oil and gas operations have reported experiencing nosebleeds, headaches and respiratory irritation. These health effects are consistent with what medical science says to expect from exposure to benzene and other air toxics. Although a draft 2,000-foot setback from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff represents progress as compared to the current 500-foot setback, 20 of 22 epidemiological studies conducted in recent years have found statistically significant increased health risks associated with oil and gas development out to distances of 2,500 feet.

As health professionals, mothers, fathers and concerned Colorado residents spanning the Front Range area, we commend the COGCC’s proposed further setback distance. The Commission has clearly taken science, peer-reviewed literature and the voices of those who came forward to share their real-life experiences into consideration. Symptoms tell the truth, science tells the truth, the people who live near these Colorado oil and gas operations suffering from negative health effects are telling the truth.


The oil and gas industry is borrowing a page from the tobacco industry’s playbook by demanding false scientific certainty while ignoring scientific evidence before oil and gas regulators take action to protect Coloradans. The Colorado Department of Health and the Environment has stated that the scientific studies being demanded by the oil and gas industry would be a multi-generational study that would take decades and millions of dollars to complete. Furthermore, allowing continued pollution and degradation of air quality while conducting an unnecessary study of already known effects of exposure to oil and gas industry pollution is medically unethical, constituting an involuntary experiment on human subjects. Regulation to protect public health as required by Colorado law cannot be allowed to wait until there is a further harm to the health and safety of Coloradans.

The COGCC cannot give in to the oil and gas industry’s delay tactics and must act now to protect the health of Colorado residents. As it is our job to make sure our patients’ best interests come first, it is the commissioners’ job to make sure the health and safety of Coloradans come first. As health professionals, we ask Gov. Jared Polis and the COGCC to stay strong on setbacks that protect our health, safety and welfare.

This commentary is by Velma L. Campbell, M.D., MPH, FAAFP, board certified occupational medicine/American Board of Preventive Medicine, board certified American Board of Family Medicine 1981-2009; Cory D. Carroll, M.D., board certified American Board of Family Medicine 1981-present, chair of Physicians for Social Responsibility Colorado; Karen K. Dike, RN, MSN; Jan Douglas, M.D., board certified American Board of Family Medicine 1983-2018. They are health professionals based in communities from Pueblo through Fort Collins.

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