air pollution

Fri, 2015-01-23 03:58Sharon Kelly
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New Report Spotlights Toxic Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Sites in California

A new report from Earthworks shines a light on air pollution, including methane leaks, from oil and gas wells in California, the nation's third largest oil producing state in 2013 – highlighting the ways that potentially toxic gases from the sites raise red flags for the health of those living nearby.

Published Thursday, the report is the first analysis of California's oil and gas air pollution based on infrared video footage combined with air sample testing and revealed toxic gases in the air surrounding oil and gas wells in Kern County and Ventura County. Many of the sites tested were at existing oil and gas wells, including one sample drawn while a well was abandoned. People living near the sites were also surveyed.

“Air sampling revealed the presence of 15 compounds known to have negative effects on human health, as well as 11 compounds for which no health data is available,” the researchers reported.

Wed, 2015-01-07 12:46Sharon Kelly
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EPA Sued Over Disclosure Rules for Toxic Pollution from Drilling and Fracking

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been sued over toxic chemicals released into the air, water and land by the oil and gas industry, a coalition of nine environmental and open government groups announced today.

The extraction of oil and gas releases more toxic pollution than any other industry except for power plants, according to the EPA's own estimates, the coalition, which filed the lawsuit this morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, noted.

But the industry has thus far escaped federal rules that, for over the past two decades, have required other major polluters to disclose the type and amount of toxic chemicals they release or dispose. The Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) is a federal pollution database, established under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, and can be used by first-responders in the event of a crisis as well as members of the general public.

People deserve to know what toxic chemicals are being used near their homes, schools and hospitals,” said Matthew McFeeley, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

For too long, the oil and gas industry has been exempt from rules that require other industries to disclose the chemicals they are using, so communities and workers can better understand the risks. It’s high time for EPA to stop giving the oil and gas industry special treatment.”

Roughly one in four Americans live within a mile of an oil or gas well, making the air emissions from the industry a matter of local concern to a fast-growing number of families.

Wed, 2014-12-31 14:06Brendan DeMelle
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DeSmogBlog’s Top 10 Stories of 2014

It was a year of highs and lows as far as climate change and energy issues. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lows got a lot of the attention, which is why the top 10 posts on DeSmog this year are mostly of the outrageous, infuriating or depressing variety.

We’ve already collected the top clean energy revolution stories of the year, so if this post gets too heavy for you, you can always pop over there and have some of your hope for the future restored.

But for those of you who can't look away, here are the top ten stories we posted on DeSmog this year, as measured by the amount of traffic each received:

Fri, 2014-12-19 18:27Mike Gaworecki
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New EPA Coal Ash Regulations Are Not Enough To Stop The Next Coal Ash Spill

The Environmental Protection Agency released long-awaited coal ash regulations today, the first rules ever to be imposed on the storage and disposal of the toxic waste left over after burning coal for electricity—the second largest industrial waste stream in the U.S.

But according to Earthjustice and the 10 environmental and public interest groups it represented in suing to force the release of the regulations in the first place, the EPA’s new rules are not nearly stringent enough to stop the next coal ash spill before it happens.

The new rules will not phase out the practice of storing massive quantities of coal ash—which contains highly toxic substances like arsenic, mercury, lead and radioactive uranium—in unlined ponds shored up by earthen dams that are often unstable and likely to fail. This is exactly what happened in the case of the Dan River coal ash spill in North Carolina this past February and the spill in Kingston, Tennessee in 2008 that released 1.1 billion gallons of coal fly ash slurry, covering up to 300 acres of surrounding land.

The typical coal ash dam is built from soil and ash and is used to impound millions of tons of coal ash and wastewater. The majority are over 40 years old, according to Earthjustice, and most do not have monitoring systems in place for detecting leaks of the toxic coal ash slurry they contain.

Thu, 2014-12-18 08:26Mike Gaworecki
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What Americans Don’t Know About Climate Change Could Be Really Bad For Their Health

When it comes to the health impacts of global warming, Americans are woefully uninformed.

In fact, according to a survey conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, only about one in four can even name a health problem associated with global warming that their fellow Americans might be suffering from.

Only 14% of Americans are aware of one of the most obvious health impacts of all the global warming pollution that has been dumped into our atmosphere: respiratory problems like asthma and other lung diseases. A mere 6% make the connection between illness, injury, and death resulting from extreme weather events and climate change.

Less than 5% of Americans could name any of the other consequences to human health from global warming.

Perhaps that’s no surprise, given that the survey also found 70% of Americans have given “little or no thought” to how global warming could affect human health in the first place.

Tue, 2014-12-16 05:00Mike Gaworecki
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Newspapers Complicit In Selling Phony “War On Coal”

U.S. newspapers are helping conservatives push their misleading “war on coal” narrative, according to a new report.

There are a number of reasons why the tide has turned against the coal industry around the globe. Mining and burning coal for energy poses huge risks for human health and the environment, for instance, mainly due to the vast amounts of air and water pollution created throughout coal’s lifecycle.

Then of course there’s the fact that coal is the single largest source of global warming pollution—while coal-fired power represents only 39% of all electricity generated in the U.S, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is responsible for 75% of carbon emissions.

And of course the health of coal miners and the safety of mining operations is a cause for concern, as well. The indictment of coal baron Don Blankenship is proof enough of that—a U.S. attorney recently pressed conspiracy charges against Blankenship for violating federal mine safety and health standards and impeding federal mine safety officials, among other offenses committed before and after the explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010 that took the lives of 29 workers.

If you need more proof, there was a study conducted this year that found a severe form of black lung is affecting miners in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia at levels not seen in four decades.

But it’s not just the dangers of the job that are driving coal miners out of work: greater automation in coal mining operations and the rise of cheap, abundant natural gas thanks to fracking have also taken a heavy toll on the coal industry.

Yet a Media Matters analysis of the 233 articles published in major U.S. newspapers this year that mentioned the phrase “war on coal” found that more than half ignored all of these underlying causes of the coal industry’s decline.

Wed, 2014-12-10 14:00Julie Dermansky
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Citizens Take Monitoring Into Own Hands as Eagle Ford Shale Boom Continues Undaunted

Flare stack

Hugh Fitzsimons lll, a buffalo rancher on the outskirts of Carrizo Springs, Texas, cautiously watches the fracking industry’s accelerating expansion. His 13,000-acre ranch is atop the southwestern part of the oil-rich Eagle Ford Shale, which stretches from Leon County in northeast Texas to Laredo, along the Mexican border.

During the last two years Fitzsimons has watched the fracking boom transform a rural locale into an industry hub. Desolate dirt roads are now packed with truck traffic, and commercial development to service the growing industry has sprung up along state highways, creating air and noise pollution.

Hugh A. Fitzsimons III

Hugh A. Fitzsimons lll on a dirt road near his ranch in the Eagle Ford Shale. ©2014 Julie Dermansky for Oceans 8 Films

Though Fitzsimons stands to profit from oil extraction, he has not turned a blind eye to the industry’s damaging effects on the environment. He wants to make sure the expanding industry acts responsibly and is doing his part to ensure that happens, a tall order since a state-sponsored report estimates the number of wells could grow from 8,000 to 32,000 by 2018 and industry polices itself for the most part.

Thu, 2014-11-27 08:00Julie Dermansky
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Unsafe Levels of Formaldehyde in Air Around Arkansas’ Fayetteville Shale

Fracking industry site next to the Greer Ferry Lake in Quitman, Arkansas

Results from air samples taken in the Fayetteville Shale show notably elevated levels of formaldehyde, a suspected human carcinogen that can cause respiratory and reproductive problems as well as birth defects — but citizens still have little faith U.S. regulators will step in to prevent further threats to human health.  

The tests were conducted by an Arkansas community group trained by Global Community Monitor to use equipment and methods certified by federal agencies to collect the air samples. Citizen groups in Colorado, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming were also trained for the community-based participatory research.

Over a period of two years, samples were taken at sites locals were concerned about. Laboratory analysis of the samples collected often revealed contaminants such as benzene, formaldehyde and other toxic substances above levels the federal government considers safe for brief or longer-term human exposure.

The implications for health effects are just enormous,” David O. Carpenter, director of the University at Albany’s Institute for Health and the Environment, told National Geographic.

Wed, 2014-11-19 10:00Mike Gaworecki
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Regulators Are Failing To Protect Californians From Oil And Gas Development

Two new reports show that California regulators are failing to enforce basic measures to protect the public—particularly in the most vulnerable communities—from the impacts of oil and gas development.

The FracTracker Alliance has a new report showing that there are 352,724 children in California who attend a school within one mile of an oil and gas well, including at least 217 wells using fracking, acidizing, and gravel packing as a stimulation technique.

State law and corresponding regulations do not place any limit on where the oil and gas industry is allowed to drill, nor do they require that notice be given to parents, teachers, or school officials when fracking or other high intensity oil extraction methods will be used in close proximity to schools, despite the growing number of scientific studies that have identified public health threats from oil and gas development, especially fracking.

State law and regulations are similarly lax in regards to the other end of the oil and gas development cycle, according to Clean Water Action, which has just released a report detailing the threat to California's air and water from the open, unlined pits used to store much of the oil industry's toxic wastewater.

California produced 8 billion gallons of oil and 130 billion gallons of wastewater in 2013—15 barrels of wastewater for every barrel of oil, the CWA report says. There has been no comprehensive analysis of the locations of these pits in relation to high quality groundwater sources, and many of the pits are being operated without any permit whatsoever.

Fri, 2014-11-07 12:01Mike Gaworecki
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Add Toxic Air Pollution To Growing List Of Problems With Fracking

The threat posed by fracking to water quality is an issue receiving a lot of attention lately (see here, here, and here, for instance), as is the looming collapse of the fracking boom. But the Center for Environmental Health, suspecting that the whole story wasn't being told, partnered with 15 different local, state, and national organizations to study fracking's impact on the air we breathe, and the results are not pretty.

Since 2012, community groups in six states—Arkansas, Colorado, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming—have been collecting air samples at oil and gas development sites where horizontal drilling, fracking, and other unconventional drilling and well stimulation techniques were employed.

The results, which were written up in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health and are also available in the report “Warning Signs: Toxic Air Pollution Identified at Oil and Gas Development Sites,” were analyzed by CEH and a team of specialists, who describe the results as “shocking.” The key takeaways:

  • Fifteen of the 35 “grab” air samples (meaning, where air is intentionally drawn into a sampling device), had concentrations of volatile chemicals that exceeded federal exposure risk levels for cancer, or for non-cancer health effects.
      
  • Fourteen of the 41 passive samples (where air naturally passes through a sampling device) had concentrations of volatile chemicals that exceeded federal exposure risk levels for cancer, or for non-cancer health effects.
      
  • One sample had air pollution levels that may pose an immediate danger to life or health, according to Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
      
  • Benzene, a known human carcinogen, was detected at sample locations in Pennsylvania and Wyoming, in levels exceeding health-based standards by several orders of magnitude.
      
  • In three states, formaldehyde was detected at levels exceeding the health-based standards of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).


At least 37% of the more than 600 chemicals used in fracking are endocrine disruptors, according to the report. Other health impacts from chemicals associated with oil and gas development include headaches, impaired motor function, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, liver damage, heart attacks, and cancers of the lungs, nose, and throat.

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