Live on tape: dirty air pollution from oil and gas production operations

Given it’s the season for film awards, I will be posting my nominees for some of the most compelling oil and gas pollution videos. Words cannot do justice to the environmental harm that is evident in these images.

Today’s category: air pollution. I've linked to the YouTube sites for these videos.

Some of the worst air pollution eminating from wells and associated equipment can be seen by the naked eye:

Diesel fumes from drilling equipment in a Texas backyard.

Air emissions venting directly into the air from tanks on a well pad in the same backyard.

A Texas ranch with what appears to be natural gas, including methane, being emitted directly into the air from leaking wellbores.

A tape of what appears to be natural gas,including methane, venting directly into the air from a wellpad in Texas. What's worse, the methane seems to be bubbling up through a leak of fluid that should have been contained. The fluid could be natural gas condensate, oil, produced water, or some combination.

Some emissions can only be seen with the assistance of an infrared camera; here are some shocking examples of the additional pollution such a camera can reveal:

Texas well pad with gas emissions being vented into the air.

Texas ranch with emissions from a metering station.

A recent newspaper article quotes an environmental engineer as saying that more than half of natural gas operators he has worked with: "....aren’t employing vapor recovery and other kinds of systems and controls needed to curb emissions."

What is in the emissions that we see in these videos? Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. A New York Times article clearly outlines the threats of methane and the extent to which it is being emitted by natural gas producers.

In addition, there may be hazardous air pollutants like benzene, formaldehyde, naphthalene, and more. There may also be particulates and other pollutants. EPA will be reviewing federal air regulations that govern oil and gas operations. This review is long past due--current regulations have not kept pace with expansion in the industry and the advent of new pollution control technologies. We need more data about what is being emitted into our air, and stronger protections for human health and the environment. Air emissions from oil and gas production are suspected in very serious human and animal health impacts across the country, from cancer to reproductive and neurological symptoms.

The federal Bureau of Land Management has found that adopting air pollution control technologies can make companies millions of dollars. If companies won't take these steps voluntarily, we need new federal laws and regulations to ensure that steps are taken to protect human health, animal life, and the environment.

Credit for these important videos goes to: Tim Ruggiero, Elizabeth Burns, Rob Johnson, and EARTHWORKS/Oil and Gas Accountability Project.