Science Lags as Health Problems Emerge Near Natural
The health impacts of the aftermath of natural gas
production remain largely unexplored
By Abrahm Lustgarten , Nicholas Kusnetz and ProPublica
September 19, 2011
On a summer evening in June 2005, Susan Wallace-Babb
went out into a neighbor's field near her ranch in
Western Colorado to close an irrigation ditch. She
parked down the rutted double-track, stepped out of her
truck into the low-slung sun, took a deep breath and
A natural gas well and a pair of fuel storage tanks sat
less than a half-mile away. Later, after Wallace-Babb
came to and sought answers, a sheriff's deputy told her
that a tank full of gas condensate-liquid hydrocarbons
gathered from the production process-had overflowed into
another tank. The fumes must have drifted toward the
field where she was working, he suggested.
The next morning Wallace-Babb was so sick she could
barely move. She vomited uncontrollably and suffered
explosive diarrhea. A searing pain shot up her thigh.
Within days she developed burning rashes that covered
her exposed skin, then lesions. As weeks passed, anytime
she went outdoors, her symptoms worsened. Wallace-Babb's
doctor began to suspect she had been poisoned.
"I took to wearing a respirator and swim goggles outside
to tend to my animals," Wallace-Babb said. "I closed up
my house and got an air conditioner that would just
recycle the air and not let any fresh air in."
Wallace-Babb's symptoms mirror those reported by a
handful of others living near her ranch in Parachute,
Colo., and by dozens of residents of communities across
the country that have seen the most extensive natural
gas drilling. Hydraulic fracturing, along with other
processes used to drill wells, generates emissions and
millions of gallons of hazardous waste that are dumped
into open-air pits. The pits have been shown to leak
into groundwater and also give off chemical emissions as
the fluids evaporate. Residents' most common complaints
are respiratory infections, headaches, neurological
impairment, nausea and skin rashes. More rarely, they
have reported more serious effects, from miscarriages
and tumors to benzene poisoning and cancer.
ProPublica examined government environmental reports and
private lawsuits and interviewed scores of residents,
physicians and toxicologists in four states-Colorado,
Texas, Wyoming and Pennsylvania-that are drilling hot
spots. Our review showed that cases like Wallace-Babb's
go back a decade in parts of Colorado and Wyoming, where
drilling has taken place for years. They are just
beginning to emerge in Pennsylvania, where the Marcellus
Shale? drilling boom began in earnest in 2008.
Concern about such health complaints is longstanding-
Congress held hearings on them in 2007 at which Wallace-
Babb testified. But the extent and cause of the problems
remains unknown. Neither states nor the federal
government have systematically tracked reports from
people like Wallace-Babb, or comprehensively
investigated how drilling affects human health.
"In some communities it has been a disaster," said
Christopher Portier, director of the U.S. Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the
National Center for Environmental Health. "We do not
have enough information on hand to be able to draw good
solid conclusions about whether this is a public health
risk as a whole."
Exemptions from federal environmental rules won by the
drilling companies have complicated efforts to gather
pollution data and to understand the root of health
complaints. Current law allows oil and gas companies not
to report toxic emissions and hazardous waste released
by all but their largest facilities, excluding hundreds
of thousands of wells and small plants. Many of the
chemicals used in fracking and drilling remain secret,
hobbling investigators trying to determine the source of
contamination. The gas industry itself has been less
than enthusiastic about health studies. Drillers
declined to cooperate with a long-term study of the
health effects of gas drilling near Wallace-Babb's town
this summer, prompting state officials to drop their
plans and start over.
These factors make a difficult epidemiological challenge
even tougher. Doctors and toxicologists say symptoms
reported by people working or living near the gas fields
are often transient and irregular. They say they need
precise data on the prevalence and onset of medical
conditions, as well as from air and water sampling, to
properly assess the hazards of drilling.
"There are considerable issues about health effects,"
said John Deutch, former director of the CIA and a
professor of chemistry at MIT, who heads a Department of
Energy panel examining the environmental effects of
shale gas drilling, with an emphasis on hydraulic
fracturing. "Frankly, I'm not even sure ... what serious
public health work has been done in making a
The health questions are intensifying at a moment when
communities and states are already weighing the benefits
and costs of drilling for natural gas. Drilling has
brought much-needed jobs and cash infusions to some of
the nation's poorer regions; bullish estimates of U.S.
gas reserves promise plenty of drilling development in
the future. At the same time, fracking's lasting
environmental toll-particularly the threat it may pose
to water supplies-has become the subject of intense
debate. Since 2008, ProPublica has reported about
hundreds of cases of water contamination in more than
six states where drilling and fracking are taking place
as well as the difficulties of handling the vast
quantities of waste the drilling processes produce.
Medical and government groups are beginning to sound
alarms about drilling's potential to damage health.
In May, Sen. Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa., wrote to
Environmental Protection Agency? administrator Lisa
Jackson, the Centers for Disease Control? and Prevention
and state officials, asking them to investigate illness
clusters in Pennsylvania. "Despite being above the
normal rate, these disease groupings are often dismissed
as statistically insignificant," Casey wrote.
In July, when the EPA proposed new emissions rules for
the drilling industry, it warned that without them there
could be an unacceptably high risk of cancer for people
living close to major facilities. In August, a national
association of childrens' doctors published a fact sheet
detailing concerns about fracking and warning that
children are more susceptible to chemical exposure. The
group called for more epidemiological research and
disclosure of chemicals used in drilling.
The gas drilling industry says it supports such research
and that health concerns should be taken seriously, but
that the public should be careful of jumping to
conclusions. "Sound science does exist on these issues,"
wrote Chris Tucker, a spokesman for the industry group
Energy in Depth, in an email. Tucker pointed to a case
in Pennsylvania where a woman alleged that drilling had
contaminated her water and made her sick. A state
investigation found that her water was indeed foul, but
that it had been that way long before drilling began.
"Eventually, pretty firm conclusions can be made with
respect to potential causes and effects. Unfortunately,
it takes time to do all that in a rigorous, data-driven
No such research is under way on a significant scale,
Portier, whose agency is a sister agency of the CDC and
charged with determining the toxicity of industrial
chemicals and preventing exposure to them, says the
anecdotal evidence of environmental illness is
sufficient to warrant a more serious and systematic
approach to studying it. His agency, in conjunction with
the EPA, is performing at least five health
consultations for communities concerned about health
impacts, including two in Pennsylvania. These smaller-
scale studies assess health risks based on data already
collected, giving a snapshot of a community at a
particular moment. But what's needed is a nationwide
study that tracks people living close to drilling over
time, Portier said. That could cost upward of $100
million. "We can't do everything yet," Portier said. "We
only have so much money available."
* * *
The number of new natural gas wells drilled each year in
the United States has skyrocketed, from 17,500 in 2000
to a peak of more than 33,000 in 2008. Fracking
technology, once used in just a small percentage of
wells, has made it possible to get gas out of deeply
buried reserves and has become an essential part of
drilling almost every new well. At the same time,
fracking has opened up vast new reserves in the eastern
United States. The wells are now being drilled in
heavily populated parts of Louisiana, Pennsylvania and
Colorado, and even into urban neighborhoods of Fort
Alongside the growth in drilling, reports of fouled
water, bad odors and health complaints also have
increased. In the few places where basic environmental
sampling has been done, the results confirm that water
and air pollution are present in the same regions where
residents say they are getting sick. Last spring, the
EPA doubled its estimates of methane gas leaked from
drilling equipment and said the amount of methane
pollution that billows from fracking operations was
9,000 times higher than researchers had previously
In Colorado, the ATSDR sampled air for pollutants at 14
sites for a 2008 report, including on Susan Wallace-
Babb's property. Fifteen contaminants were detected at
levels the federal government considers above normal.
Among them were the carcinogens benzene,
tetrachloroethene and 1,4-dichlorobenzene. The
contamination fell below the thresholds for unacceptable
cancer risk, but the agency called it cause for concern
and suggested that as drilling continued, it could
present a possible cancer risk in the future. Even at
the time of the sampling, the agency reported, residents
could be exposed to large doses of contaminants for
brief "peak" periods.
"Since residents may be repeatedly exposed to these peak
concentrations of benzene," the ATSDR report said, "the
concentrations ... warrant careful monitoring and
In Pavillion, Wyo., where residents have complained of
nerve damage and loss of sense of taste and smell, EPA
superfund investigators found benzene and other
hydrocarbons in well water samples, as well as methane
gas, metals, and an unusual chemical variant of a
compound used in hydraulic fracturing. A health survey
conducted there by an environmental group in late 2010
found that 94 percent of respondents complained of
health issues they thought were new or connected to the
drilling, and 81 percent reported respiratory troubles.
The ATSDR, in consultation with the EPA, advised at
least 19 families in Pavillion not to drink their water
and to ventilate bathrooms when they bathed, in part
because volatile organic compounds can become airborne
in a shower. But the government stopped short of saying
that drilling caused the contamination or their
In 2009, an environmental-sciences firm also found
widespread air contaminants in Dish, Texas, a small town
in the heart of the Barnett Shale just north of Fort
Worth. Wolf Eagle Environmental, hired by the town's
mayor and local residents, collected readings from seven
monitoring stations and detected 16 chemicals, including
benzene and other known and suspected carcinogens.
Benzene exceeded Texas' exposure standards at three of
Wilma Subra, the environmental consultant who ran the
survey in Pavillion, also surveyed Dish residents about
their health. About 60 percent of respondents reported
symptoms that would be expected in people exposed to
high levels of the chemicals found in the air samples,
Texas' Commission on Environmental Quality reviewed Wolf
Eagle's work and agreed that the contaminants could pose
a long-term health risk to residents. This year, it
followed up with air monitoring of its own in nearby
Fort Worth. While the agency determined that
contamination levels did not present a public health
risk, emissions at five test sites violated state
regulatory guidelines. The state documented high levels
of benzene and formaldehyde-both carcinogens-in those
"Evidence like that really gives our agency a bit of
urgency in its work," said Al Armendariz, the EPA's
regional administrator for south central states, based
* * *
One of the byproducts of the natural gas boom has been
that environmental agencies set up to handle issues of
permitting and waste disposal are grappling with
questions of health and epidemiology, subjects in which
they have little training or experience.
In Pennsylvania and Colorado, regulators are still
taking the first awkward steps toward developing
processes to track and investigate reports of illness
related to drilling.
Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection
has received 1,306 drilling-related complaints since
2009-45 percent of which alleged water pollution-but
officials acknowledged they couldn't separate out how
many involved health issues. Officials with the state
Department of Health said they coordinated with the DEP
on drilling-related health complaints but would not
respond to questions for this story and denied
ProPublica's request for complaint records, citing
Pennsylvania's secretary of health has urged the
creation of a registry to track health complaints in the
state's drilling areas-at an annual cost of about $2
million-but so far, the governor has not acted upon the
Records show Colorado's Oil and Gas Conservation
Commission received 496 complaints between mid-2006 and
the end of 2008. But officials there, much like their
Pennsylvania counterparts, have no way to separate those
related to health-even the ones passed on by the state
Department of Public Health and Environment-from those
concerning spills, or noise, or other disruptions.
In an internal government report, the commission
separated out complaints related to odors for this
period. There were 121. But there are limited public
records reflecting what state officials did in response
to these reports. Often, records show state officials
pursued or fixed the source of an odor, but not whether
they tracked any possible health effects connected to
"Those are allegations, they're complaints, they may or
may not be valid complaints," said Debbie Baldwin, the
commission's environmental manager. "Given the number of
people in the state, the number of wells in the state
and the amount of activity associated with oil and gas
... that's a small number."
It is unclear from available records whether the
commission ever independently evaluated Susan Wallace-
Babb's assertion that toxic emissions harmed her health.
The agency's report shows that inspectors confirmed her
story about an overflow and fumes and asked Williams,
the company drilling near her home, whether dangerous
pollutants had been emitted. The company said no,
assuring inspectors "this is a non-incident," records
show. In the segment of the incident report labeled
"resolution," the agency also noted that the company
suspected Wallace-Babb "may have been influenced by
others annoyed with local gas-field operators."
In response to a request for comment, Williams referred
ProPublica to a letter it submitted to the U.S. House
Oversight and Government Reform committee after Wallace-
Babb testified in 2007. In the letter, the company says
that it placed a cap on an open tank near Wallace-Babb's
home and conducted its own air monitoring for pollutants
that would post a health risk, finding none. State and
federal air monitoring also did not find levels of
emissions that would clearly pose a health risk, the
company said. "We had employees or contractors at the
well site on a regular basis and none of them ever
complained about feeling sick as a result of being near
the tank," Williams' letter states.
Colorado's health department responded to questions by
email about how the state tracks health complaints from
people in drilling areas. The department's spokesman
said the state had insufficient data to show a
relationship between drilling and health issues. "There
continues to be much interest in the potential health
effects of gas production activities," wrote Mark
Salley. "This department will continue to work with the
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to protect
the public's health."
* * *
In September 2009, Range Resources? began drilling a
natural gas well near the home of Beth Voyles in one of
the most heavily drilled counties in southwestern
Pennsylvania. The following spring, Range began filling
a giant waste impoundment near Voyles' home, and
wastewater accumulated in puddles on the dirt roads,
where the water was sprayed to hold down the dust,
according to a lawsuit Voyles filed against the state
and interviews with ProPublica. The family immediately
noticed a stench, and its dog, which lapped the fluid
from the puddles, got sick.
A veterinarian determined that the dog had been exposed
to ethylene glycol, a component of antifreeze that is
also used in hydraulic fracturing. The dog's organs
began to crystalize, and ultimately failed, the vet told
Voyles, and the family had to euthanize the dog. A short
time later the family had to euthanize a horse after it
exhibited similar symptoms, Voyles told ProPublica. "If
it's crystalizing their organs," Voyles said of her
animals, "just how long before it's going to do that to
us?" Then the whole family started getting rashes, aches
and blisters in their noses and throats. Her doctors
couldn't pinpoint what was causing their symptoms.
"You feel like you're drugged because your brain's not
thinking," she said. "We want our life back."
When Voyles began to suspect drilling might be the
cause, she had her doctors run blood tests for chemicals
known to be used in the processes. The results came back
showing high levels of benzene, toluene and arsenic.
In August 2010, after several complaints from the area,
according to Voyles' lawsuit, the state Department of
Environmental Protection asked Range to treat the
impoundment pond for hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas that
can be fatal at high levels and cause nausea, vomiting
and headaches in lower amounts. The impoundment was
briefly emptied in June, Voyles said, but then filled
again in August. Now the rashes are back, she's lost
much of her sense of smell and she says everything
tastes like metal.
Voyles is suing the DEP, which she says ignored her
concerns that the chemicals in her blood could be from
the waste in the impoundment nearby, never advised her
that its tests showed that her well water was also
contaminated with an industrial solvent and never issued
any violations to Range. Among the clear violations that
DEP overlooked, she alleges, was that the waste
impoundment did not meet minimum state regulatory
requirements. Her lawsuit does not seek compensation,
but asks that the agency investigate her complaints
according to state regulations. The DEP did not respond
to calls requesting comment.
Range Resources did not respond to a call from
ProPublica about Voyles' case either. In an earlier
report, the company denied there were problems with the
impoundment near her home.
After seeing several medical specialists and
epidemiologists, Voyles still doesn't know what to do
about her family's health.
"They don't know how to treat us," she said.
* * *
In assessing Voyles' case and others like it,
environmental epidemiologists warn that proximity and
correlation don't add up to proof. Even when symptoms
and contamination occur in the same place, they say, it
doesn't necessarily mean the contamination caused the
"You have a community where there is a putative
exposure, and a community with putative illness," said
Daniel Teitelbaum, a toxicologist who has spent years
examining health issues around drilling and helped frame
some of the early research in Colorado. "But you can't
say whether the people exposed are the people who are
In the Pennsylvania case pointed out by industry
spokesman Chris Tucker, for example, a woman complained
for years of symptoms similar to Wallace-Babb's. She
alleged that drilling activities had contaminated her
water with barium. She spoke at anti-drilling rallies
and environmental groups used her case. But when
Pennsylvania officials investigated, they found her
intense exposure to barium hadn't come from drilling-it
was a natural seepage into her well.
Teitelbaum says that collecting measurements of
contaminants in the air and water is an essential first
step. But he said epidemiologists then set out to track
an "exposure pathway," comparing people exposed to
pollutants to people not exposed and then identifying
how the exposure occurred. No such scientific protocol
has been developed to examine the gas fields. Without
one, the more common respiratory and skin ailments are
increasingly accepted as being related to pollution,
Teitelbaum said. But whether the more serious symptoms
have anything to do with drilling is a complete unknown.
"You hear and see everything you can possibly imagine,
from miscarriages to multiple sclerosis to brain
tumors," he said. "There is no way to document whether
those things are real or not real."
That's why a health registry-a database to cross
reference patterns of symptoms and locations where they
occur with water and air tests-is so important, he said.
Without this context, complaints from residents may not
be taken seriously by doctors or environment officials,
partly because people respond to chemical exposures
differently. Their symptoms can vary widely and can be
difficult to recognize.
"If someone comes in and just says I can't think
straight, or I'm really tired or I have headaches,
that's not measureable," said Dr. Kendall Gerdes, a
Denver-based physician who specializes in ecological
exposure cases and has seen a number of patients
complaining about the gas patch. "Therefore it's
considered psychosomatic by most doctors' training."
Gerdes said many of the symptoms roughly fit what
ecological-disorder specialists in ecological disorders
call multiple chemical sensitivity. It's a sort of
catch-all to explain intense reactions to chemical
compounds ranging from skin maladies to nerve damage.
According to Gerdes, those predisposed to chemical
sensitivity are likely to have the most pronounced
reactions to chemical exposures in drilling areas.
"Characteristically that person will know they can't be
around fresh paint, or can't wear perfume," he said. "So
to me, it is an unrecognized vulnerability that, when
put together with significant exposures, is enough to
The more people with chemical sensitivity are exposed,
the more sensitized they get, Gerdes said. Before Susan
Wallace-Babb passed out in the field by her truck, she
had felt wooziness and headaches. In the weeks after,
she couldn't bear the slightest exposure in places where
she had previously felt safe.
"I would wake up in the middle of the night in pain and
vomiting and so sick I could barely make it to the
bathroom," she said. "And that was with the house
Gerdes and others experts say that whatever affected
Susan Wallace-Babb likely also affected others in her
community, but they may not have exhibited the same
symptoms or reacted as quickly.
For all the mysteries surrounding Wallace-Babb's
condition, one thing was clear: When she was away from
home, she felt better. When she returned, her symptoms
worsened. "That's probably the clearest association you
can make," Gerdes said. "When it happens several
different times there is a correlation."
Wallace-Babb reluctantly decided to move.
"My body could not rid itself of the toxins," Wallace-
Babb said. Her doctor warned her that if she didn't
leave, she would never get better. "I thought gosh,
there is my dream house. There is my dream all gone and
what am I going to do?"
* * *
By late 2009, stories like Wallace-Babb's had become
common in Garfield County, Colo., where she had lived
and the natural gas production had jumped eightfold in
the previous eight years.
Rick Roles, whose ranch is dotted with gas wells and
used to be near a set of large open-air waste pits,
complained of intense fatigue. His eyes and throat
burned relentlessly, he told ProPublica during a visit
in 2008. Light work made his heart race, and, like in
the case of Voyles, doctors detected benzene in his
blood. Roles was a smoker, which could explain the
benzene. But he also raised goats with prized bucks, and
after the wells were drilled, many of the kids were
stillborn or deformed.
A few miles away another woman, Laura Amos, was
diagnosed with a rare adrenal tumor she believed was
caused by drilling chemicals that are used in fracking.
In 2001, her water well exploded with methane and gray
sediment the same day drillers pumped fluids underground
to frack a well nearby. By 2003 she was sick. After her
lawyers obtained documents from the drilling company,
EnCana, showing that the suspected chemical was used in
nearby wells, Amos accepted a multimillion-dollar
settlement. The terms remain confidential, except for
the fact that Amos is no longer allowed to talk about
her case. Colorado fined EnCana for failing to contain
its drilling waste properly. EnCana has said it
disagreed with the state action and that there was no
proof that fracking caused Amos' well problems.
Another local couple, the Mobaldis, experienced symptoms
similar to those of Wallace-Babb and Voyles, but worse.
Steve Mobaldi testified about his wife's condition at a
2007 congressional hearing. "Chris began to experience
fatigue, headaches, hand numbness, bloody stools,
rashes, and welts on her skin," he said. "Tiny blisters
covered her entire body. The blisters would weep, then
her skin would peel. ... Canker-type sores appeared in
her mouth and down her throat, and they would disappear
the next day. ... The racking pain was unbearable."
Chris Mobaldi developed a pituitary tumor and died in
2010 from a complication in her treatment.
In response to these cases and others, state and county
health officials conducted a series of monitoring
projects that found that gas drilling was the area's
largest source of several hazardous air pollutants,
including benzene and ozone-forming emissions. For
several years, with the cooperation of federal health
officials, Colorado monitored air quality in Garfield
County, determining repeatedly that while pollution in
the area did not exceed health standards, it probably
meant there was a slightly elevated risk of cancer and
other health effects. But none of those steps were
sufficient to help officials determine the precise risk
level. They didn't have a way to systematically record
health complaints or to track which residents might have
been exposed to which pollutants and when-the essential
link in completing an epidemiological study.
Still, the incremental studies underscored concern among
When Antero Resources announced plans in the spring of
2009 to drill 200 more wells in Battlement Mesa, a golf-
course community almost within sight of Wallace-Babb's
old home, about 400 residents petitioned the county to
study the potential health impacts before they permitted
In February 2010, the Garfield County board of
commissioners hired researchers at the Colorado School
of Public Health to conduct another health impact
assessment, analyzing air samples collected by federal
and state officials over the years to gauge the dangers
of new drilling and how best to mitigate them. Whereas
previous research had analyzed samples of emissions from
sites across the county, this time researchers focused
on the risk to one small, well-defined area, trying to
assess the potential of risk increasing over time. The
researchers also were tasked with designing a long-term
plan to collect data on the drilling once it began,
tracing how emissions affected residents. The two-
pronged effort promised to be one of the most in-depth
analyses so far of gas field health effects in the
In a draft of the health impact assessment released in
February 2011, the School of Public Health researchers
concluded that without pollution control measures,
emissions from drilling would likely be high enough to
cause disease in Battlement Mesa, including respiratory
and neurological problems, birth defects and cancer. The
report said that air pollution was a greater risk than
water pollution and pointed to fracking as the stage of
drilling that released some of the most toxic emissions.
The conclusion was starkly different from past
government assessments, which were limited to
determining whether pollution was dangerous at the time
the samples were taken. The School of Public Health's
view was that the drilling was clearly emitting
carcinogens and that sooner or later this would lead to
problems, according to Roxana Witter, an assistant
research professor at the Colorado School of Public
Health and the lead author of the study.
The authors stressed that data from the long-term
monitoring phase of their research were needed to fill
crucial gaps in evaluating the risks from drilling
emissions, but the project wouldn't get that far.
The draft findings were immediately controversial.
"It got political," said John Martin, one of the
Garfield County commissioners who oversaw the study.
Martin said environmental groups wanted to use the study
to stop drilling. "It got blown completely out of
proportion and they took advantage of that issue to
further their agenda."
The drilling industry was highly critical of the draft
and its authors and pressed county officials to delay
issuing its final report by extending the period for
public comments. Money from outside interest groups had
been flowing into elections for Garfield County
commission seats, and in November 2010 a commissioner
seen as a supporter of more health research was
In May, the commission decided not to extend the
researchers' contract, and a final draft of the report
was never produced, limiting the impact of its
"The study wasn't finalized," said David Neslin,
director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation
Commission. "We always have to be careful about using
draft documents which haven't been finalized."
Martin, one of the commissioners who voted against
paying to finish the project, said the commissioners had
already gotten what they were looking for: general
recommendations for how to mitigate potential health
effects. If there are larger uncertainties about how
drilling can affect public health, Martin said, that's
for state and federal agencies to study.
"We have limitations and this is beyond the scope of
what we need to be doing," he said.
For the next phase of the study-the long-term monitoring
project-the county and the School of Public Health
sought the help of Colorado's health department. The
department had planned to apply to the EPA for funding
to measure drilling emissions and track their movement
as drilling progressed.
But in August, local gas drilling companies informed
government officials they would not cooperate with the
study unless Garfield County and the state agreed to
replace Witter's team with other academic researchers
and start over.
"GarCO operators have collectively decided a Garfield
County air study, conducted by the Colorado Public
School of Health [sic], is unworkable and one they are
unable to participate in moving forward," wrote David
Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado
Oil & Gas Association, in an Aug. 3 email that was
forwarded to the Colorado Department of Public Health
Antero did not respond to requests for comment. In an
email to ProPublica, Ludlam explained the industry
wanted to see a scientific organization like Colorado
State University's Department of Atmospheric Science do
the work, rather than Witter. "It is less about a
tangible bias and more about an overall environment of
distrust in Garfield County resulting from their
previous work product being politicized by outside
parties," he wrote.
The state health department abandoned, for the time
being, its plans for the research one week after
receiving Ludlam's email, withdrawing its application
for federal funding.
The project's demise has left the state's leading
environmental doctors discouraged. "It is tragic," said
Teitelbaum. "We are going lickety split ahead with the
drilling along the East Coast and nobody knows what the
hell is going on. And nobody wants to spend any money on
While Teitelbaum and others wait for answers, Wallace-
Babb continues to grapple with the ailments that drove
her from Colorado.
In 2006, she moved to Winnsboro, Texas, a small town two
hours east of Dallas. For three years her symptoms
gradually improved, until she could work in her garden
and go about her normal daily routine. Then, early last
year, Exxon launched a project in an old oil field 14
miles away and began fracking wells to get them to
produce more oil. Within months, Wallace-Babb's symptoms
returned. Again, she wears a respirator to visit the
grocery store. Again, she is looking to move.
"It's one thing if you choose to work for that industry
and you get damaged from that exposure," Wallace-Babb
said. "At least they made money. But if you are just
living and minding your own business and your life gets
torn asunder, it's different.
"I made nothing. I got all the damage."
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