Recent news on the toxic air pollution from natural gas production

Ozone is the key ingredient of smog and can cause asthma attacks, irreversible lung damage, and even premature death. People typically think of smog in heavily populated areas, but when it comes to oil and gas drilling, that stereotype does not apply. Last year I blogged on how rural Utah now has some of the highest ozone in the nation; the air was “unhealthy” for 40 days last winter.

Increased oil and gas drilling has pushed ozone levels to unprecedented highs in rural and urban areas alike in the Rocky Mountain region. It also indicates elevated levels of the pollutants that contribute to ozone, including Volatile Organic Compounds like benzene, toluene and formaldehyde--as well as nitrogen oxides.

Wyoming also has had astronomically high ozone levels. The state instituted new rules to control the air emissions from oil and gas operations. However, it seems these new rules might not be enough. Yesterday, the ozone in Boulder, Wyoming reached a 1-hour average late in the day of 106 parts per billion (ppb). The current ozone limit is 75 ppb average over 8 hours, so this level did not violate the rules, but it is a warning signal.

Also today and yesterday, the State of Colorado issued the first every ozone alerts for western Rio Blanco County -- an area with fewer than 3,000 residents. It's a good sign that high ozone got the attention of regulators.

Last week there was an excellent report from a Pennsylvania news station on air quality concerns stemming from natural gas drilling there. It appears from that report, unfortunately, that Pennsylvania regulators are not doing as much as they can to monitor and control dangerous air pollutants being emitted from natural gas operations.

About the Authors

Amy Mall

Senior Policy Analyst, Land & Wildlife program

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