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Air Quality Petition Filed Over WYO Oil and Gas Pollution

PHOTO: This photo, seen in the petition filed by Earthjustice on Tuesday, shows a Colorado school near oil and gas well sites. The petition asks for new air quality rules for drilling and fracking. Photo courtesy Lighthouse Solar.
PHOTO: This photo, seen in the petition filed by Earthjustice on Tuesday, shows a Colorado school near oil and gas well sites. The petition asks for new air quality rules for drilling and fracking. Photo courtesy Lighthouse Solar.
May 15, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – There's been a lot of debate about the effects of oil and gas drilling on water quality and safety - and this week, 64 environmental groups - including three in Wyoming - 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.

Attorney Tim Ballo says current rules cover 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, but there are no comprehensive standards for this sector, as there should be under the Act, and as is necessary to protect public health," says Ballo.

The legal action gives the EPA 180 days to get public comments about the issues raised in the petition and submit a response. The three Wyoming groups that signed on: Clark Resource Council, Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, and the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

The petition claims that wells emit at least 100,000 tons of pollution into the air that Ballo says are considered health hazards.

"Among the more serious ones is benzene," he says. "In hydraulically-fractured wells, a lot of the chemicals that are used, if emitted into the air, they're 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 an elementary school in Colorado, 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.

In Wyoming and across the country, it is estimated that more than 150-million people live in areas where oil and gas wells are operating or proposed.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY