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Map Displays Methane Threats in PA

About 1.5 million Pennsylvanians live within a half mile of an oil or gas facility. (USGS/Wikimedia Commons)
About 1.5 million Pennsylvanians live within a half mile of an oil or gas facility. (USGS/Wikimedia Commons)
June 15, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Methane pollution is a health hazard, studies have found, and now an online map can tell you how close that risk is to you.

About 1.5 million people live within a half mile of one or more of the more than 100,000 oil and gas facilities operating in Pennsylvania. Studies show that those people are at greatest risk of the negative health impact of methane exposure, including fetal damage and respiratory ailments.

Conrad Schneider, advocacy director for the Clean Air Task Force, said the new online map can help people assess the risk they face in their own homes.

"We hope that, armed with this information, they will demand protective safeguards requiring the industry to clean up its act and reduce these serious risks to public health," he said.

In May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized standards to cut methane emissions from new sources, but those standards don't cover the hundreds of thousands of already existing facilities.

According to Patrice Tomcik, a western Pennsylvania field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, two studies of methane impacts on unborn children have been done in Pennsylvania, including one in Butler County where she lives.

"What it showed," she said, "is that there are adverse birth outcomes that are happening the closer that these moms are to gas development."

The map also shows hospitals and schools that are located within a half-mile radius of oil and gas facilities.

Nationally, people living in 238 counties in 21 states face increased risks of cancer. Schneider said those primarily are gas and oil-producing states, and reducing methane emissions would help.

"That will reduce emissions of these toxic air pollutants like benzene and ethylbenzene and formaldehyde as well," he said, "the ones that are causing these cancer risks."

The EPA has begun the process of formulating new regulations to curb emissions from existing sources.

The map is online at oilandgasthreatmap.com.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA