air quality

Thu, 2014-05-15 13:00Anne Landman
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Colorado Oil and Gas Operations Emitting Far More Benzene, Methane Than Expected

Gas pumpjack in Weld County, Colorado

Scientists affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have determined that oil and gas operations on Colorado's front range are pumping almost three times more methane and seven times more benzene into the air than previously estimated.

Benzene is a regulated air toxin that causes cancer and methane is 20 to 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere.

Researchers collected air samples from an airplane over Weld County over two days in May 2012. Previous studies measured air samples taken at ground-level or from a 985-foot tall tower. This is the first study to measure airborne contaminants from an airplane.

Researchers found that 24,000 active oil and gas wells active in Weld County in May 2012 were emitting a total of 19.3 tons of methane each hour, or about triple the amount the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated would come from industry-reported emissions.

Drilling operations emitted benzene at a rate of 380 pounds each hour, or about seven times more than the 50 pounds an hour the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment estimated based on industry-reported data.

Mon, 2014-03-31 16:08Anne Landman
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Colorado Health Department Investigating Spike in Fetal Abnormalities in Heavily-Drilled Garfield County

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has called in an epidemiologist to investigate a recent spike in fetal abnormalities in Garfield County on Colorado's western slope. Stacey Gavrell, Director of Community Relations for Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, said area prenatal care providers reported the increase in fetal abnormalities to the hospital, which then notified CDPHE. So far neither the hospital nor the state have released information about the numbers of cases reported, over what span of time, or the amount of the increase. 
 
Gavrell said it is too early to speculate on the causes of the spike in abnormalities. 
 
The report comes shortly after the February, 2014 publication in Environmental Health Perspectives of a study that found an association between the density of natural gas wells within a ten mile radius of expectant mothers' homes and the prevalence of fetal anomalies such as low birth weight and congenital heart defects in their infants.
 
The study examined a large cohort of babies over an extended period of time in rural Colorado, and specifically controlled for confounding factors that also emit air pollution, including traffic or other heavy industries. The abnormalities in infants in the study are associated with exposure to air pollutants like those emitted from natural gas wells, including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen dioxide. 
 
A map of current drilling activity in the Garfield County area shows the number and concentration of active wells along the busy I-70 corridor between Glenwood Springs and Rifle, one of the areas of interest in CDPHE's investigation.  
Fri, 2014-03-14 14:02Emma Gilchrist
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Columbia River Coal Pollution Lawsuit Against BNSF Railway Moves Forward As New Research Raises Air Quality Concerns On Seattle Rail Lines

A lawsuit against the BNSF Railway Company will proceed after the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington rejected the company’s motion to dismiss a Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and six other groups.

The Riverkeepers say BNSF trains are spilling coal into the Columbia River while en route to the coal-fired power plant in Centralia, Wash., and Canadian ports for export. A video shows the organization’s executive director Brett VandenHeuvel finding piles of coal along the river and holding a flask of coal-polluted water.

Coal contains arsenic, mercury and lead, which pollute water and harm aquatic life. According to BNSF’s own calculations, coal trains can lose 500 pounds of coal from each car.

If plans to export more coal to Asia from Oregon, Washington and B.C. go ahead, up to 20 more coal trains a day would travel along the Columbia River, according to Columbia Riverkeeper.

The court’s ruling comes shortly after scientists at the University of Washington published a groundbreaking study on air quality impacts from train traffic in Washington State. The study was published in the international journal Atmospheric Pollution Research.

The scientists, who raised money for their research from the public, tracked particulate matter, linked to heart attack, stroke, respiratory problems and lung damage. They found living close to rail lines significantly increases one’s exposure to particulate matter.

Thu, 2013-07-18 05:00Steve Horn
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State Dept Keystone XL Environmental Reviewer Claimed Delaware Tar Sands Refinery Made Air Cleaner

A DeSmogBlog investigation reveals Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group), the contractor that performed the environmental review for TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline, was also recently hired by a major Delaware City refinery to study air quality around the plant. 

This “study” was funded by the refinery itself, owned by Delaware City Refining Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of PBF EnergyDelaware City Refinery is the recipient of 180,000 barrels per day of fracked oil from North Dakota's Bakken Shale along with oil extracted from Alberta's tar sands - both referred to as the “holy grail” by the Refinery's owner at a Feb. 2013 meeting - which sojourn eastward via mile-long freight rail cars owned by Norfolk Southern.

Conducted in March 2013, the study concluded the “air quality [near the refinery] is as good as, and in some cases, better than samples taken during the 2011 study before the refinery restart,” as explained on a flyer obtained by DeSmog promoting two public meetings hosted by ERM to discuss results. 

However, an independent air sample study detected the cancer-causing compound benzene far above levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as soot and sulfur dioxide, in an area one mile from the refinery.

ERM Group - a dues-paying member of American Petroleum Institute (API), which has spent over $22 million lobbying on tar sands and Keystone XL since its June 2008 proposal - said that because Alberta's tar sands will get to market with or without Keystone XL, the tube's northern half “is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of [tar sands] development.”

Under that logic, Keystone XL - which President Obama said in in the Climate Action Plan he will only approve if it doesn't “significantly exacerbate…carbon pollution” - won't have a “substantial impact” on climate change. That could mean “game on” for the pipeline. 

Mon, 2011-09-19 13:01Carol Linnitt
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Counterpoint on Shale Gas and the Future of Fracking

Recently the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature published a ‘pros vs. cons’ piece on the production of unconventional gas from shale. The tête-à-tête, led by Terry Engelder on the pro side and Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea on the con side, weighs the risks and benefits of gas production as it relates to the economy and human and environmental health.

Howarth and Ingraffea, authors of the first peer-reviewed study on lifecycle emissions from unconventional gas production, are solemn in their assessment: “shale gas isn’t clean, and shouldn’t be used as a bridge fuel” to a clean energy future. Their recommendation is based on the risks involved with high-volume slick-water hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as it exists in its present form.
 
Although the industry claims to have performed over one million fracking operations since the 1940s, Howarth and Ingraffea counter that the current technology is still relatively new and has only been in operation for a decade. Modern fracking bears little resemblance to its historic counterpart and requires greater amounts of water and chemicals, deeper drilling and higher pressures. All these differences combine to make fracking an unavoidably dangerous process. Howarth and Ingraffea also claim that a switch to unconventional gas will not substantially alleviate global warming in the near future.
Wed, 2011-08-10 12:23Carol Linnitt
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Communities At Risk from Gas Industry Air Pollution - Interview with NRDC's Amy Mall

Global Community Monitor

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is busy trying to figure out why communities near gas production facilities are experiencing life-threatening levels of hydrogen sulfide. At low levels hydrogen sulfide can cause respiratory distress, headaches, and loss of motor control, while at high levels can cause nausea, vomiting, shock, convulsions and death. 

In June, air samples taken near a gas well pad in Colorado showed hydrogen sulfide levels at 185 times the safety limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency.  The highly toxic gas was discovered by a group of vigilante air testers called the Bucket Brigade, working with the Global Community Monitor program to expose industrial polluters.

The investigation, led by a coalition of citizen and environmental organizations, collected nine air samples near gas drilling operations in Colorado and New Mexico. They discovered a total of 22 toxic chemicals in their community air, of which four are known to cause cancer. These industrial pollutants were discovered at levels 3 to 3000 times greater than official human safety thresholds.

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