Rural Utah now has some of the worst air quality in the nation thanks to oil and gas operations

Ozone, the key ingredient of smog, forms when two types of pollutants—volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx)—react with sunlight. When smog is breathed in, the effects are akin to getting a sunburn on the inside of your lungs. Ozone can cause asthma attacks, irreversible lung damage, and even premature death.

New data show that the air near oil and gas operations in Utah wildlands was “unhealthy” for 40 days this past winter. According to a recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune, this air quality is as bad as "the nation’s most polluted place, San Bernardino County, Calif." Worse than Los Angeles or Houston.

Increased oil and gas drilling has pushed ozone pollution levels to unprecedented highs in rural and urban areas alike in the Rocky Mountain region. Areas of Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico have also experienced very high ozone levels. Of course, not only the ozone is harmful, but also the high levels of the pollutants that contribute to high ozone. VOCs like benzene, toluene and formaldehyde are hazardous pollutants that are known to cause harm to human health, including short-term illnesses, cancer, or even death. For example, benzene and formaldehyde are both known to cause cancer.

It is definitely time for new rules that limit both ozone and the hazardous air pollutants from oil and gas operations to safer levels. We are very pleased that EPA is reviewing the rules that govern the air emissions from these activities.

EPA is also currently accepting public comments on strengthening the national ozone standard. You can weigh in by visiting NRDC's Action Center and sending a letter to the EPA.