Science & Policy Update May 29, 2014: Regional Air Quality

By: Angela Johnson Meszaros, General Counsel

Earlier this month, PSR-LA joined 63 other organizations from around the country to petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to directly address the hazardous air pollution resulting from oil and gas wells. Earthjustice filed the petition on May 13, 2014. The petition asks that, within six months, the EPA begin the process that would require maximum achievable emissions reductions for the hazardous air pollution resulting from oil and gas production wells.

Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP) are toxic air pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive harm or birth defects. The Clean Air Act recognizes 187 such pollutants. More information about HAPs can be found in the EPA’s Health Effects Notebook for Hazardous Air Pollutants.

On pages 33-36 of this petition, we’ve specifically identified the following HAPs as “the main HAP[s] of concern” along with a short description of the known health effects of these chemicals.

  • benzene
  • toluene
  • ethylbenzene
  • xylenes
  • carbonyl sulfide
  • N-hexane
  • formaldehyde
  • mercury
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)
  • arsenic
  • methyl chloride
  • acrolein
  • The petition, just over 100 pages with all its appendices, is an excellent document for understanding oil and gas extraction across the country and for its great survey discussion of the health impacts of the chemicals associated with this activity.

    As of 2011, there were more than 1.04 million oil and gas wells in the nation. That number is predicted to grow by as many as 45,000 new wells per year through 2035. In 2012, Los Angeles County was home to 3,690 active wells, which produced about 24 million barrels of oil and 18.5 million cubic feet of methane gas (known popularly as “natural gas”). Many of these wells are in very close proximity to homes, schools, and hospitals. The oil industry expects there to be a huge expansion of wells drilled in Los Angeles over the next couple of years.

    “We’re just getting started, really,” said Stephen Harris, a consultant to Occidental Petroleum Corp. and past president of Los Angeles Association of Professional Landmen. “Most of us project that in the next couple years… you’re going to see another giant boom.” Los Angeles’s part of the Monterey Shale holds “more oil per square meter… than any other oil-producing basin on the planet,” Harris added. “There will be as much drilling as they possibly can do,” Harris said.

    It is clear that these sites impact people’s health, especially children, and even more harm will occur as drilling and the production of oil and gas expands here. It is also clear that once this oil is extracted, its use – among other things – will release particulate matter and other air toxics that cause ozone formation, which we know have serious health effects of their own.

    Additional Resources from the Petition:

  • Potential Public Health Hazards, Exposures and Health Effects from Unconventional Natural Gas Development. Adgate, JL, et al., 2014
  • Chemical-Management Policy: Prioritizing Children’s Health. American Academy of Pediatrics, Policy Statement, 2011
  • Natural Gas Operations From a Public Health Perspective. Colborn, T, et al., 2011
  • Colorado oil and gas wells emit more pollutants than expected. Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. 2012
  • The Impact of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Find Particles on Pregnancy Outcome. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2000
  • Medical Management Guidelines for Hydrogen Fluoride. HHS, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
  • Maternal Exposures to Ambient Levels of Benzene and Neural Tube Defects Among Offspring: Texas, 1999-2004. Lupo, P.J. et al., 2011
  • Human health risk assessment of air emissions from development of unconventional natural gas resources. Science of the Total Environment, 2012.
  • Other Resources

  • Understanding Exposure from Natural Gas Drilling Puts Current Air Standards to the Test. Reviews on Environmental Health. Volume 0, Issue 0. 2014
  • Air Pollution Exposure and Risk Near Unconventional Natural Gas Drill Sites: An Example in Garfield County, Colorado. John Adgate, Professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Colorado School of Public Health
  • AirNow. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Ozone and Your Patients’ Health: Training for Health Care Providers. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Particulate Matter (PM): Health. Environmental Protection Agency
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