Texas Clean Air Matters

Selected tag(s): cancer

Energy Producers Capture More Today Than In “Good Old Days” But We’ll All Benefit If They Do Better

In the frontier days of drilling in the 1900s, discoveries such as Spindletop in Texas and the Drake in Pennsylvania heralded a new era of energy for America. Back then, the gaseous by-product produced at the wellhead was considered a nuisance and flared (burned) or released into the air. Today, it’s considered a valuable energy source and routinely harnessed, which results in economic and environmental benefits. Capturing gas cuts emissions that contribute to ground-level ozone, cause cancer, and contribute to climate change.

Given that it’s 2011, we’re way past the conditions of the 1900s. But, whereas the process of capturing natural gas as an energy source has come a long way, many improvements must still be made to ensure producers capture the maximum amount of natural gas “upstream” at wellheads and throughout the gas processing and transportation network.

Just because the gas can’t be seen doesn’t mean it isn’t hazardous. In the last three years, new data shows that natural gas leaks might be twice as high as previously thought. This means that a lot more air pollution is fouling the air we breathe.

The pollution comes from equipment on-site (tanks, valves, compressor engines, flanges), at processing plants (where raw natural gas is purified for residential and commercial use) and throughout the pipeline system.

If you know anyone that lives near drilling sites — such as the Barnett Shale in Texas, the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, Piceance and big chunks of Colorado and Wyoming — you’ve likely heard stories about their public health and environmental impacts.

EDF sponsored a study showing that the emissions produced by natural gas operations around Barnett Shale rival those from 4 million cars and trucks in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. Around the country, those who live nearby drilling sites have reported higher incidents of health concerns including respiratory and skin irritation, neurological problems, dizziness and headaches. And in some instances, elevated levels of benzene — a known carcinogen — have been detected.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed rules that would require use of technologies and practices to capture more of the natural gas now being allowed into the air. These clean air standards are sensible, which makes you wonder why it’s taken a century to put these rules into place at the national level. It also makes you wonder why industry would fight them when they can capture more natural gas and bring it to market. Indeed, in addition to the health and environmental benefits of the rule, there are economic benefits.

A number of natural gas companies already use the practices that the EPA is proposing to cut methane and are touting the resulting economic benefits.

Similar requirements to those the EPA proposed have been in place in Colorado and Wyoming without adverse affects on companies’ profits. Who isn’t for a win-win solution?

I’ll be blogging more about this proposal in the coming days. Please get involved by writing to the EPA in favor of updated clean air protections. We also invite you to join us and share your thoughts with the EPA at the upcoming public hearings in: Pittsburgh, Sept. 27; Denver, Sept. 28; and in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 29. If you can’t make the hearings, you can submit comments online until Oct. 24.

There’s no better time than now to make your voice heard and show your support for clean air.

Posted in Air Pollution, Barnett Shale, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, Natural gas / Also tagged , , , , , , | Read 4 Responses

Texas State Environmental Agency Expands Air Toxic Hotspot Area

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) recently issued a public comment period and public meeting regarding the Galena Park Air Pollutant Watch List (APWL) area for benzene. The purpose of the APWL is to reduce air toxic emissions in areas of Texas where ambient air monitoring indicates a potential health concern.

Galena Park is listed on the APWL due to elevated annual average concentrations of benzene.  Benzene is a known human carcinogen – both the National Toxicology Program (NTP) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have found sufficient evidence that high benzene exposure causes acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Why the change?

Between 1998 and 2007, annual average benzene concentrations in Galena Park exceeded the long-term, health-based Air Monitoring Comparison Values (AMCV) of 1.4 parts per billion by volume (ppbv). In 2009, annual average benzene concentration at the Pasadena North monitoring site equaled the long-term AMCV of 1.4 ppbv.

TCEQ recently conducted a reevaluation of Galena Park and identified significant man-made benzene sources located outside of the current APWL boundary that are likely contributing to annual average benzene concentrations at the Galena Park and Pasadena North monitoring sites. As such, TCEQ is proposing to expand the Galena Park APWL boundary to include these sources of benzene. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, TCEQ / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

New Rule Expected to Dramatically Reduce Hazardous Power Plant Emissions

Perhaps next week we’ll all be able to breathe just a little bit easier with the much- anticipated Wednesday, March 16 announcement of a new Air Toxics Rule.

The Environmental Protection Agency will announce a rule that will, for the first time, limit hazardous emissions from our nation’s power plants. These pollutants threaten the health of every American with annual emissions of more than 386,000 tons of dangerous air pollution like mercury, acid gases, heavy metals and even radioactive materials.

Unlike criteria air pollutants – like ozone and particulate matter – there are no current national ambient air quality standards for air toxics. This means that there’s no regulation on the amount of harmful air toxics that can collect in our air, water, or wildlife. Once in the environment, many of these toxic compounds are there forever.

While we have yet to learn all of the implications from harmful exposures to air toxics, we do know that some of the most serious health effects are most severe in infants and young children and include brain damage, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and impaired vision and hearing. We also know that reducing exposures can reduce risk, and that reducing risk is the best and most immediate way to protect human health. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, Ozone, Particulate Matter / Also tagged , , , , , , | Read 2 Responses

Texas Could Pay Bills, Save Ills

With Texas now facing a $27 billion budget shortfall and the possibility of new taxes, layoffs and service cuts at the state level, we’re long overdue in implementing the long-term savings that will help improve our quality of life, save jobs and even make Texans healthier. It’s time for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to stop wasting taxpayer money fighting the Environmental Protection Agency and for state legislators to adopt common-sense solutions like those outlined in the “No Regrets” bill, which offers reductions strategies for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at no cost to business and consumers.

Reducing air pollutants that are harmful to human health (e.g., particulate matter, ozone-precursors, and even GHGs) saves money. How? Fewer missed days at work. Decreased number of hospital visits. Lower mortality rates. We’re talking about the hidden costs of air pollution. Don’t just take our word for it. Consider that in Texas:

  • Asthma accounted for more than 25,000 hospitalizations and an estimated $446.8 million in hospital charges in 2007.  An estimated 2.3 million (12.9%) adults had self-reported lifetime asthma, and 1.4 million (8.2%) adults had self-reported current asthma.
  • Cancer is the second leading cause of death and will become the number one leading cause of death in the next decade. The total estimated direct medical costs due to cancer in 1998 were $4.9 billion, and indirect costs from lost productivity were $9.1 billion – for a total of about $14.0 billion attributable to Read More »
Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, Ozone, Particulate Matter, TCEQ / Also tagged , , , , , , | Read 1 Response