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Selected tag(s): Ozone

Reducing Drilling Pollution—Wyoming Did It, No Big Deal. Will Texas?

ozonegraphThe technological advances that led to the “shale revolution” have undoubtedly had a large economic impact on the Texas economy – something state leaders and the oil and gas industry are never shy about pointing out. But the impact drilling has on air quality and public health, that’s something energy-friendly Texas has not been so quick to recognize.

When not managed responsibly, drilling operations can contribute to the formation of ozone, also commonly known as smog. At certain concentrations, this pollution can trigger asthma attacks and cause other severe respiratory illnesses.

San Antonio is one place that’s seeing the clear connection between drilling and lower air quality, thanks to increased drilling just south of the city from the Eagle Ford Shale region. Before 2008, ozone levels in San Antonio had been steadily dropping, but when the shale revolution hit and drilling increased, regional ozone readings started going up.  In fact, based on air quality monitor readings from the last three years, San Antonio’s air quality is the 2nd worst in the state.  This correlation between drilling and ozone levels has been documented by The University of Texas and the Alamo Area Council of Governments, both of which concluded oil and gas activity in the Eagle Ford Shale is materially impacting ozone levels in San Antonio. Read More »

Posted in Air Quality, Natural Gas, Texas, Wyoming / Tagged | Comments are closed

Report Card Blues: ALA Report Shows Western Air Needs Improvement

rp_mountainsmog-300x202.jpgIt’s report card time for air quality in the U.S. and, unfortunately, several western states are getting grades of “needs improvement.” That’s the take-away from the American Lung Association’s (ALA) annual “State of the Air” report released today. When it comes to unhealthy ozone pollution (commonly referred to as “smog”), several western states are simply not making the grade.

Once mainly seen in major urban areas, smog pollution is now becoming more and more of an issue in the rural mountain west. This is bad news for local residents as smog can cause serious health impacts like aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, and heart attacks. At times, areas like the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming have experienced smog levels that rival Los Angeles.

One of the main culprits?  Air pollution from oil and gas development. Ozone pollution is created by an interaction between two different sorts of air pollutants, oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  Oil and gas development provides a significant source of both of these air contaminants across many parts of the West. Read More »

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Ozone Pollution in the West: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Clint_Eastwood1Long familiar in major urban areas, smog – what we experts call “ground-level ozone” pollution – is quickly becoming a serious problem in the rural mountain west, thanks to rapid expansion in oil and gas development. Smog can cause serious health impacts like aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, and even premature death. In areas like the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming, smog levels have sometimes rivaled those in Los Angeles.

Now, the Environmental Protection Agency and several western states are putting the pieces in place to fix this problem: EPA through proposed revisions to  the health-based ozone standard that will better protect people from pollution, and states like Wyoming and Colorado through strong policies that are helping to reduce the sources of ozone pollution in the oil and gas industry.

In official public comments filed this week with EPA, EDF and a broad coalition of western environmental and conservation groups supported a more protective ozone standard and pointed out the importance of this issue to the intermountain west–where most of the country’s oil and gas production from federal lands occurs.

Read More »

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Clean Air Report Card: CO, WY Counties Get F’s Due To Oil And Gas Pollution

Source: Washington Business Journal

As a parent, I would not be pleased if my kids brought home F’s on their report cards.  Stern talks with my children, frantic phone calls and scheduled meetings with teachers and administrators would ensue.  Plans of action would be crafted.  It would be an urgent wake-up call.

This week, several counties in Colorado and Wyoming brought home poor grades on their clean air report cards.  The American Lung Association examined the levels of damaging ozone pollution in counties in these two western states and several of them are simply not making the grade.

High ozone levels are not new to Colorado.  Like many large metropolitan areas, Denver has struggled with ozone pollution (commonly known as smog) for many years. But historically, such problems have been limited to the summertime and to the Denver metropolitan area. Now unhealthy levels of ozone are becoming a common occurrence year-round and are emerging in rural parts of Colorado and Wyoming.

The culprit?  Air pollution from oil and gas development, which is just one of the environmental risks associated with a booming natural gas industry. Read More »

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Do Shale Gas Activities Play A Role In Rising Ozone Levels?

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Texas Clean Air Matters Blog.

Source: AFP

As we continue seeking relief from rising temperatures this month, it’s also time to be on the watch for ozone alerts. The annual Texas smog season – April 1 through October – already appears to be in full swing this year with numerous counties around the state exceeding health-based ozone concentrations many times since March.

Just last week, the Houston Chronicle highlighted the magnitude of ozone exceedances that the area hasn’t seen since 2003. Additionally, the month of May was the nation’s “smoggiest” in the past five years according to a recent report released by Clean Air Watch. Texas ranked second, surpassed only by California, for the most Code Red and Code Orange days so far in 2012, with 18 days and 27 days respectively.

Ozone-forming pollution is emitted by cars, refineries and various industrial plants. As more Texans begin to see shale gas drilling rigs pop up around them, many are asking the question: Could emissions from natural gas and oil operations significantly contribute to ground-level ozone? The answer is an unequivocal yes.

The Role of Natural Gas and Oil in Rising Ozone Levels

While burning natural gas produces less smog-forming pollution than coal combustion but more than renewable energy generation, much of the equipment used in the drilling, production, processing and transporting of natural gas and oil produces significant amounts of such pollution. This equipment releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx), which combine in the presence of sunlight to form ground-level ozone or “smog.” According to the state of Colorado, natural gas and oil operations were the largest source of ozone-forming pollution, VOCs and NOx in 2008.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has reported that storage tanks used in the exploration and production of natural gas and oil are the largest source of VOCs in the Barnett Shale. Recently, there have been additional concerns that San Antonio may not meet federal ozone standards due to Eagle Ford Shale development. Peter Bella, natural resources director at the Alamo Area Council of Governments, told the Houston Chronicle that the city is “right on the edge of nonattainment.”

Ozone concentrations comparable to those recorded in some of the most heavily polluted U.S. cities have been measured in rural parts of Wyoming and Utah, where little other industrial activity occurs:

It’s important to note, however, that ozone monitoring does not exist in many oil and gas development areas, so we don’t know the full extent of the potential problem. For instance, though the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has committed to start monitoring in the Eagle Ford, there is not currently sufficient monitoring to characterize ozone problems in the area.

Protection of Human Health

As natural gas and oil development expands into new regions, adverse air impacts are likely to follow, absent sufficient emissions controls. It is crucial for states to have strong standards in place, especially for a state such as Texas, which experienced exponential production increases in a short period time. The Eagle Ford Shale alone saw a 432 percent increase in natural gas production from 2010 to 2011.

We are happy to report that EPA recently finalized clean air measures that will serve as an important first step in reducing harmful pollution discharged from a variety of oil and natural gas activities. In fact, last month, EDF President Fred Krupp testified before the U.S. Senate in support of these new clean air standards, which will result in significant reductions in smog-forming pollutants and hazardous air pollutants like benzene, a known carcinogen. As a co-benefit, the standards will also reduce methane, a potent climate forcer.

In his testimony, he said “these common sense measures are a win-win: they reduce pollution, conserve valuable domestic energy resources, and in some cases, actually save producers money.” He added that it was “critical that we build on these clean air measures if our nation is to fulfill the President’s promise in his State of the Union to develop natural gas without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”

While mounting evidence continues to link natural gas drilling with rising ozone levels, it is important to remember why we should care in the first place:

  • Ozone has been linked to a host of maladies, including premature mortality, heart failure, increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits for respiratory causes among children and adults with pre-existing respiratory disease, such as asthma and inflammation of the lung, and possible long-term damage to the lungs.
  • Children, the elderly, and people with existing respiratory conditions are the most at risk from ozone pollution.
  • Ozone also damages crops and ecosystems. Ozone is one of the most phytotoxic air pollutants – causing damage to vegetation in national parks and wilderness areas, especially in mountain regions and to valuable crops.
  • Ozone pollution also contributes to climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ozone is the third-largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide and methane.

In the end, we’re talking about the protection of human health as well as our entire planet. Continue to visit this blog for updates on rising ozone levels in our state, as well as other vital information related to Texas air quality.

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