Tag Archives: Texas Oil and Gas

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

CONTACT:

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.”

 

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RESOURCES

 

 

RESOURCES INCLUDED AT THE END OF THE PETITION:

 

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.

 

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Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club tells EPA: Protect Texas children by lowering the ozone standard

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began public hearings this week in North Carolina to consider whether to lower the national health standard on ground-level ozone. Formed on hot sunny days by emissions of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide emissions– primarily resulting from the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, cars and industry – ground-level ozone directly impacts lung function and can lead to asthma, bronchitis, early death and a host of other health-related illnesses. Particularly at risk are the very young, the very old and those with preexisting health conditions.

Not surprisingly, filed public comments showed strong support among environmental and health advocates like Sierra Club and the American Lung Association for lowering the standard, while utilities, coal companies, the Texas Public Policy Foundation – an industry-funded conservative think tank – and even the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said the science does not support lowering the ozone standard. A full copy of the Lone Star Chapter’s comments can be found here.

At issue is whether or not the EPA should lower the level of pollution in the ambient air  at which an area would be considered to be in violation of the national air quality standard. The current standard of 75 parts per billion – measured as an average over eight hours — was developed in 2008 under former President Bush, while the new proposed standard would range between 60 and 70 parts per billion and has been under discussion in the public, in the White House, in Congress and in court ever since.

 The Sierra Club filed extensive comments supporting lowering the standard to 60 PPB based on hundreds of peer-reviewed health studies showing children and others do exhibit reduced lung function and real health effects at a level of 60.

 If a standard of 60 were adopted, it is likely that all major urban areas in Texas – based on the last three years of ozone data – would fail to meet the standard, including Houston and Dallas – which are currently out of compliance with the standard – along with Austin, San Antonio, Laredo, Corpus Christi, Tyler-Longview, Waco, Beaumont-Port Arthur and El Paso. Even cities in the Lower Rio Grande Valley – generally far removed from large industrial sources – might violate such a standard. 

Though a new, lower standard would be challenging for most of the state to meet, no Texas citizen should have to breath outdoor air that is unsafe.  Fortunately, there are solutions. Within our cities, generally the largest amount of pollution that leads to high levels of ground-level ozone comes from vehicles. Texas can and should continue to clean up our cars and trucks by not only making sure we meet the federal standards for new vehicles but also by fully allocating the money from the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, which provides grants to clean up older mobile vehicles. There will be nearly $1 billion of TERP funds that could be allocated to clean up our mobile sources of pollution when the Legislature meets again in 2015.

We also must take strong action against major point sources of pollution. According to the TCEQ’s 2012 Point Source Emissions Inventory, about one-third of all nitrogen oxide emissions from industrial sources in Texas come from coal-fired power plants. Nonetheless, out of the 32 boilers in Texas that burn coal that are not scheduled for retirement, 24 lack basic control technology known as Selective catalytic reduction (SCR), a type of scrubber which removes much of the nitrogen oxide pollution. These coal plants without modern pollution control belched more than 78,000 tons of nitrogen oxide into our airways, leading to higher ozone levels throughout Texas. We would note that a special case are the coal plants owned by Luminant, which are large and located primarily in areas that influence ozone formation in Dallas and Waco. In 2007, they were purchased by a holding company known as EFH, which made a commitment to add SCR on many of their units, including Martin Lake, but have thus far failed to do so. Collectively, the Martin Lake units contributed more than 11,500 tons of nitrogen oxide in 2012, the highest single source in the state. Requiring that all such units install modern pollution control on their stacks – or retire – could significantly reduce these emissions.

We must also implement new regulations to clean up emissions from oil and gas fracking activities. The Railroad Commission of Texas is permitting some 20,000 oil and gas wells every year, the majority of which are being fracked. The well completions, flaring and venting of gas, plus their operation, processing, transportation and storage of the oil and gas and related materials is literally leaking thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, leading to the creation of more ozone over our city centers. This problem is particularly pronounced in San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth due to the fracking boom. Yet our air quality regulations are outdated to deal with this new source of pollution. Finally, while many of our cement plants have updated their control equipment, about half have not, and they are major contributors to ozone formation throughout Central Texas, contributing about 16,000 tons of NOx per year.

Other solutions include making future buildings more efficient, growing renewable energy and energy efficient appliances and retrofitting existing buildings. These solutions have not been fully explored in Texas.

Yes meeting a new ozone standard would be challenging, but if our leaders at the White House, in Congress, at the Pink Dome and at our own agency – the TCEQ – will actually work on solutions rather than delay implementing a lower standard– we can reduce ozone levels, improve health, save lives and create jobs.