U.S. EPA Proposes Protections against Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Industry

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As U.S. EPA held a public hearing today in Pittsburgh, PennEnvironment praised the agency’s proposed rules to curb air pollution from oil and gas operations as part of an urgently needed response to the public health threats posed by hydraulic fracturing.

At today’s hearing in Pittsburgh, PennEnvironment, joined hundreds of families and concerned citizens who gathered at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh to express their concern over gas and oil industry air pollution and support for stricter safeguards.

“We can’t continue to allow multi-billion dollar drilling companies such as ExxonMobil and Chevron laugh all the way to the bank while our children gasp for air all the way to the emergency room,” said PennEnvironment’s Erika Staaf.  “If the industry believes it is more important to continue the status quo and put their profits ahead of the public’s health, they can offer comments during the public comment period. We hope the EPA forges ahead and implements the strongest oil and gas industry air protections as soon as possible.”

Studies in states such as Texas, Colorado and Wyoming illustrate the types and scale of air pollution that can occur from gas drilling.

In Texas, where fracturing in the Barnett Shale has been underway for a decade, a study from the Southern Methodist University found that gas extraction activities produced 70 percent as much smog-forming pollution as all motor vehicles operating in the nine-county Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“The big oil and gas companies are making a killing with all this drilling,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “They can certainly afford to install pollution controls to help limit the smog and toxic chemicals threatening the health of our families.”

Colorado regulators have already enacted tougher rules to reduce the role of gas extraction in the region’s smog-forming emissions, which exceeded motor vehicle emissions for the entire state.

Wyoming’s Sublette County, with a population of less than 9,000, now suffers from unhealthy air pollution more commonly associated with big cities because of the thousands of gas wells there.

The oil and gas industry currently releases millions of tons of pollutants into the air each year, including:

  •     Smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can lead to increased asthma attacks, hospital admissions, and premature death;
  •     Highly toxic air pollutants such as benzene, ethylbenzene and n-hexane that can cause cancer and other harmful health effects;
  •     Methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Nationwide, the proposal will be the first step toward protecting communities in numerous states with extensive oil and gas drilling operations, including Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado and California. Because state air quality regulations must at least be as stringent as federal regulations, the final rules will ultimately provide a critical important safety net for public health.

EPA estimates when the proposed amendments are fully implemented, the combined annual emission reductions will be the following:

  • Reducing smog forming VOC pollution by 540,000 tons, an industry-wide reduction of 25 percent;
  • Cutting methane emissions by 3.4 million tons, which is equal to 65 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), a reduction of about 26 percent industry-wide; and
  • Decreasing emissions of air toxics –38,000 tons, a reduction of nearly 30 percent.

Other hearings will take place in Denver, Colorado on September 28, and Arlington, Texas on September 29.