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Groups Ask EPA to Limit "Toxic" Oil and Gas Well Air Pollution

PHOTO: This photo, seen in the petition filed by Earthjustice on Tuesday, shows an Erie, Colo., school located within two miles of 66 oil and gas well sites. Photo courtesy Lighthouse Solar.
PHOTO: This photo, seen in the petition filed by Earthjustice on Tuesday, shows an Erie, Colo., school located within two miles of 66 oil and gas well sites. Photo courtesy Lighthouse Solar.
May 14, 2014

DENVER - There's been a lot of debate about the effects of oil and gas drilling on water quality and safety - and on Tuesday, 64 environmental groups added air quality to the list of concerns.

Earthjustice filed a petition on behalf of the groups, asking that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set Clean Air Act standards for the types and amounts of air pollution from oil and gas wells.

Earthjustice attorney Tim Ballo said the agency updated a few of its air-quality rules for the industry in 2012, but the groups contend what's now in place covers less than 10 percent of total emissions from drilling and fracking.

"There are some EPA standards for certain pieces of equipment that are used in oil and gas production," he said, "but there are no comprehensive standards for this sector, as there should be under the Act, and as is necessary to protect public health."

According to the petition, Colorado has more than 51,000 oil and gas wells and is adding about 2,000 more per year. It says air pollution studies already point to drilling-related concerns in Garfield and Weld counties.

The petition details the presence of active oil and gas wells in high-population areas in Colorado and eight other states. It estimates that more than 150 million people live in areas where oil and gas wells are operating or proposed, and says the wells emit at least 100,000 tons of pollution into the air that Ballo said are considered health hazards.

"Among the more serious ones is benzene," he said. "In hydraulically-fractured wells, a lot of the chemicals that are used, if those are emitted into the air, are also toxic air pollutants. These in some cases have been linked to cancer, respiratory, other very serious health impacts."

The petition includes a photo of Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie as an example of how pervasive drilling can be in some areas. It says the school is located within two miles of 66 well pads.

The legal action gives the EPA 180 days to get public comments about the issues raised in the petition and submit a response.

The petition is online at earthjustice.org. Colorado-specific information is on pages 12 to 15 of the petition.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - CO