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Environmental groups ask EPA to set national limits on pollution from oil and gas production

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Oil and gas drilling roads and pads are spreading into remote backcountry areas of Colorado. bberwyn photo.

Cancer-causing chemicals escaping from fossil fuel facilities by the ton

Staff Report

FRISCO — Colorado communities looking to regulate the toxic and dangerous impacts of oil and gas drilling may not get any help from Gov. John Hickenlooper, but they may get some backup from a huge coalition of environmental groups that have petitioned the EPA for limits on oil and gas wells and associated equipment in population centers around the U.S.

As thousands of new wells are drilled across the U.S. every day, some studies suggest that at least 100,000 tons per year of hazardous air pollution from oil and gas well sites — including benzene, formaldehyde, and naphthalene — are escaping into the atmosphere. These pollutants have been linked to respiratory and neurological problems, birth defects, and cancer.

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.

“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.”

“Oil and gas wells release chemicals that have clearly and definitely been linked to health harms from nose bleeds and headaches to cancer, birth defects, and respiratory disease,” said James 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.

“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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