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Sunset at Pena Mountain and Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend NP

As you can see, this blog is no longer actively maintained. But we have not stopped writing great stories for the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter! Please check us out at our new website: www.sierraclub.org/texas

Environmental and Community Groups File Petition Demanding Federal Limits on Toxic Oil & Gas Well Air Pollution


Liz Judge, Earthjustice, 415.217.2007ljudge@earthjustice.org

Shazia Manji, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles (PSR-LA), 213-689-9170smanji@psr-la.org

Lauren Whittenberg, Environmental Defense Fund, 512-784-2161lwhittenberg@edf.org

 64 Environmental and Community Groups File Petition Demanding Federal Limits on Toxic Oil & Gas Well Air Pollution

Concerned about health impacts of drilling rush, groups push EPA to act swiftly 


WASHINGTON, DC – A large coalition of 64 local, state and national groups filed a petition today urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect public health by setting pollution limits on oil and gas wells and associated equipment in population centers around the U.S.

 The public interest law organization Earthjustice filed the petition on behalf of local and national groups with members and constituents across the U.S., including Clean Air Council, Clean Air Taskforce, Downwinders at Risk, Environmental Defense Fund, Global Community Monitor, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Sierra Club, and WildEarth Guardians.   The petition explains why the EPA should issue rules that would require oil and gas companies to limit toxic air pollution from oil and gas wells in urban, suburban and other populated areas as the Clean Air Act expressly provides.

 In recent years, the pace of oil and gas drilling has increased drastically. As of 2011, oil and gas wells in the U.S. numbered more than 1.04 million. Current estimates project that as many as 45,000 new wells could be drilled each year through 2035. 

Available data suggest that at least 100,000 tons per year of hazardous air pollution from oil and gas well sites—such as benzene, formaldehyde, and naphthalene—are currently going freely into the air. These pollutants have been linked to respiratory and neurological problems, birth defects, and cancer.

“More than 150 million Americans now live near oil and gas wells or above shale areas where companies are looking to drill or engage in hydraulic fracturing, and EPA needs to set standards that restrict the hazardous air pollutants they put into the air,” said Earthjustice attorney Emma Cheuse, who filed the petition on behalf of the groups. “Oil and gas wells release chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, and respiratory disease, and EPA should protect our communities, especially our children, from exposure to these hazards.”

“As fracking encroaches upon communities throughout the American West, we need relief from unchecked toxic air pollution,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director.  “Oil and gas wells might seem small, but together they are endangering our health and welfare in rural and urban areas alike, poisoning the very skies that make the West such an amazing place to live.”

“Since 2010, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality here has been promising to increase regulation and inspection of the booming oil and gas exploration and development occurring at unprecedented levels, even for Texas,” noted Cyrus Reed of Sierra Club’s Texas Lone Star Chapter. “But despite some baby steps, oil and gas development remains largely unregulated and the Texas legislature has handcuffed the agency from taking additional regulatory steps. It’s time for the EPA to step in and do what Texas leaders have been unable to do: protect Texans from the unmitigated emissions of toxic air pollutants which poison our lungs and cause smog throughout cities like Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Midland.” 

“Every Oklahoman has the right to clean air to breathe. Currently Oklahoma air continues to deteriorate and instances of illnesses directly connected to air quality such as asthma continue to increase.  A significant cause for this is the dramatic increase in oil and gas drilling in our state over the past decade,” said Sierra Club Oklahoma Chapter Director David Ocamb.

“Californians’ air, health and food supply are under assault from increased oil and gas production using fracking, sanctioned by our Legislature and Governor Brown,” said Denny Larson, Executive Director of the Global Community Monitor based in Richmond, CA.  “It’s time for EPA to do its job and enforce the Clean Air Act and end the loophole that is poisoning our air.”

“Oil and gas wells release chemicals that have clearly and definitely been linked to health harms from nose bleeds and head aches to cancer, birth defects, and respiratory disease,” saidJames Dahlgren, MD, an internist with a sub-specialty in toxicology and member of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles.  “I’ve witnessed the harm these toxics cause to people and given everything we know about these pollutants, the EPA must take action to protect communities from exposure to these clear hazards,” he added. 

“Almost a decade of un-and-under-regulated fracking has transformed North Texas into a sacrifice zone for the gas industry, with conservative estimates of over 1,000 tons of hazardous air pollution being released annually from industry sources. Breathing this toxic air pollution has left a well-documented trail of illness and disease throughout the Barnett Shale. EPA needs to do its job and protect frontline victims of fracking by reducing the toxic fallout from the practice,” said Jim Schermbeck of the Dallas-Ft. Worth-based clean air group Downwinders at Risk.

“Pennsylvania residents living near shale gas operations deserve much stronger public health protections from EPA,” said Matt Walker, community outreach director of Clean Air Council. “EPA’s current standards for flaring at new oil and gas wells do not address the many other types of ongoing operations at oil and gas wells that emit significant amounts of toxic air pollution. The Council and its members urge EPA to act quickly to greatly limit air pollution from oil and gas infrastructure. 

“Our nation should not ask communities to trade clean air for cheap energy,” said Mark Brownstein, Environmental Defense Fund’s Associate Vice President & Chief Counsel, US Climate & Energy. “Anyone living near an oil and gas development deserves to know that all necessary steps are being taken to avoid hazardous air pollution.  Strong regulation is necessary to provide that assurance.”

“The scientific evidence is piling up to support what people around the country have been reporting for years: fracking-related air pollution can threaten the health of neighboring communities,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The oil and gas industry must not be allowed to continue spewing poisons into the air. EPA needs to step up to protect the health of Americans living near fracking operations across the country.”








In Appendix A: Emissions and Covered Population Centers

  • Table 1 – NSPS v. NESHAP Coverage Comparison: Regulation of Wells and Associated Equipment
  • Table 2 – Oil and Gas Sector Summary: Comparison of Emissions Controlled by EPA’s Final Rule (“Controlled”) vs. Emissions that Could Have Been Controlled by EPA’s Final Rule But Were Not (“Not Controlled)
  • Table 5 – Presence of Active Oil and Gas Wells in — (1) Combined Statistical Areas (CSAs) with population greater than 1 million and (2) Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) not located in such a CSA


In Appendix B: Maps


  • Map 1 – U.S. Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 2 – U.S. Oil and Gas Wells and Population Centers
  • Map 3 – California: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 4 – Colorado: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 5 – Pennsylvania: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 6 – Texas: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 7 – Ohio: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 8 – Louisiana: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 9 – Michigan: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 10 – New York: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 11 – Oklahoma: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers


In Appendix C: List of health and other studies.


Lone Star Chapter Issues Statement on Seismic Activity Related to Oil and Gas Extraction

Austin – Saying it was “time to act,” Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club told the House Energy Resources Subcommittee on Seismic Activity today that induced seismic activity resulting from oil and gas activity is real and the public needs protection.

“We can’t keep pretending that we do not understand what is causing earthquakes in North Texas,” Reed told the special committee. “These statewide elected officials have been sitting on this issue for years, and it is time for our political leaders to act to prevent future induced seismic activity from oil and gas waste injection,.”

In his testimony, Reed pointed out that since November of 2013, Oklahoma has had more earthquakes than any other continental state, including California, and the majority of these quakes have been linked to underground injection of oil and gas wastes. Other known activity that has been linked to waste injection includes Ohio, Arkansas, Colorado and Texas. In Texas alone dozens of incidences of seismic activity has occurred over the last year, particularly in North Texas.

Reed called on the Legislature to put specific requirements in Texas statute to require a seismic analysis of any major injection well, require pre-monitoring and post-monitoring seismicity of injection wells, and create specific permit conditions that would allow for both mitigation and stopping injection if seismic activity occurred.

Reed added, “Other states like Arkansas and Ohio have already acted to protect the public. Let’s let Oklahoma be No. 1 in earthquakes. Texas should be No. 1 in protecting the public.”


EPA Wins Yet Again — Soot Standard Upheld

In yet another win for the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental protection, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit sided with the government that it acted appropriately in making the health-based standard for soot pollution more restrictive in 2012.

At issue was the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Particulate Matter of 2.5 Microns or less. In 2012, the EPA lowered the standard from 15 micro-curies per year to 12 micro-curies per year based on a preponderance of evidence that these tiny bits of soot can severely impact the heath of those with preexisting breathing conditions, particularly the very young and very old. Particulate matter, or PM, refers to combinations of fine solids, such as dirt, soil dust, pollens, molds, ashes and soot, that are formed in the atmosphere as a byproduct of gaseous combustion from such diverse sources as utility and factory smokestacks, vehicle exhaust, wood burning, mining, construction activity, and agriculture. 

According to the EPA, the revised standard would save between $4 billion to $9 billion annually by 2020 because of lower health costs and more productive employees, while costing just between $53 million to $350 million to implement. The vast majority of the country, or 99% of U.S. counties, would meet the revised air standard by the 2020 compliance date without taking additional action beyond what already is required under other clean air laws.

And who disagree? Well the US Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers did, arguing the EPA lacked the scientific evidence to lower the standard.

Fortunately, good judgement prevailed, and once implemented these new regulations will make it a bit easier to breathe.

In Texas, the only county that currently violates this health-based standard is an area of Harris County. While TCEQ argues that this is due mainly to dust and sand from outside the area — including some from as far away as the Sahara — is is clear that local emissions from the port of Houston and from nearby refineries and motor vehicles also contribute to the pollution. Whether or not Harris County is ultimately declared non-compliant there are clearly actions that can be taken locally to lower soot pollution.

Sierra Club will continue to work to clean up the Port of Houston and also attempt to prevent new export terminals for coal and natural gas, which can also contribute to pollution.

National Climate Assessment Shows Urgent Need for Action to Protect Texas Families

Austin — A national committee of experts in agriculture, climate science, commerce, and disaster relief released its National Climate Assessment (NCA) today. The report is the nation’s foremost comprehensive, peer-reviewed analysis of the impacts of climate disruption, showing us the effects of climate change in Texas and across the country.

The NCA explains what many Texans already know far to well: “Rising temperatures are leading to increased demand for water and energy.”   Communities across the state are scrambling to secure their water supplies for future growth; our agriculture production is yielding less, while prices are soaring; water customers are watching their bills creep up even as they use less water. According to the report, this will inevitably constrain development in many parts of the region, stress natural resources, and increase competition for water among communities, agriculture, energy production, and ecological needs.

The Texas coast is also heavily impacted by climate disruption, averaging about three tropical storms or hurricanes ever four years. According to the NCA, all of the Gulf Coast states “already face losses that annually average $14 billion from hurricane winds, land subsidence, and sea level rise.”

“This report clearly lays out the threats to our children’s health and the economic security of Texas families who are already dealing with the impacts of man-made climate disruption,” commented Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Director Scheleen Walker. “The well-financed nay-saying by climate-change deniers must stop.  Humans are the primary cause of climate disruption, and it is up to us to take responsibility for it. We must do so for the sake of our children and grandchildren.”

“The need to move away from dirty fossil fuels such as coal and fracked gas, the leading sources of climate-disrupting carbon pollution, could not be clearer or more urgent,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “It’s time that we as a nation end our dependence on fossil fuels and hasten the shift to readily available, cost-effective clean energy sources, like wind and solar. Today’s climate report shows the cost of inaction is far too great.”

More than 240 authors from across the country with diverse expertise helped create the National Climate Assessment. The findings are considered conservative estimates of the impacts of climate disruption. The full report including details of the cost to Texas’ families of climate disruptions can be found at http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report