On Thursday, September 29, Environment Texas' Luke Metzger testified at an EPA hearing in Arlington about proposed new clean air standards for oil and gas drilling operations. Here is his testimony:
Good morning, my name is Luke Metzger and I am the Director of Environment Texas, a statewide, citizen-funded advocate for clean air, clean water and open spaces.
Today’s hearing is especially timely. The DFW is suffering from another orange ozone health warning, where electronic billboards on the highways advise us to limit our outdoor activities. Incredibly, those warnings are all too common here and around Texas. Last year, there were 48 days when at least part of Texas experienced smog levels exceeding the national health standard. Children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illnesses suffer the most on these days. Children who grow up in smoggy areas may develop diminished lung capacity, putting them at greater risk of lung disease later in life. And children exposed to smog in the womb can experience lower birth weight and growth retardation. Even for healthy adults, repeated exposure to smog pollution damages lung tissues, decreases the ability to breathe, exacerbates chronic diseases like asthma, and can even cause premature death.
Texas also recently finished the hottest June-August summer in recorded U.S. history, which the Texas State Climatologist – an appointee of Gov. Perry, mind you – has attributed in part to global warming pollution. In addition, our drought - the worst one-year dry spell in recorded history – and the recent wildfires – also the worst in Texas history – are consistent with scientific predictions about global warming.
Texans deserve clean air. But on far too many days, children and seniors here in Arlington and across Texas are exposed to dangerous smog and toxic air pollution and are suffering the impacts of global warming. For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.
I am here today to commend EPA for taking steps to reduce air pollution coming from oil and gas drilling, which according to the TCEQ, will soon surpass the emissions of all the cars and trucks in the DFW area.
North Texas’ recent oil and gas boom has made it the leading shale gas-producing gas area in the country, raising the number of drilling permits issued in the Barnett shale from 36 in 1993 to 4,145 in 2008. The Barnett shale now has over 15,000 wells. Hydraulic fracturing has also exponentially expanded drilling permits in the Midland-Odessa area and south Texas’ Eagle Ford region.
This growth has put our citizens at a serious health risk. Oil and gas wells, processing plants, compressor stations, pipelines and storage tanks leak about 2.2 million tons of smog-causing gases annually, as well as greenhouse gases such as methane, and countless toxic and carcinogenic gases like benzene. All have serious effects on the health of Texans and their environment.
Natural gas and oil operations in the Barnett Shale counties alone produce as more harmful gas emissions as all of the cars, trucks and airplanes in the DFW metro area, over 103 tons per day. This massive air contamination has tangibly affected North Texans in recent years. A study of Dish, Texas in Southern Denton County found that 61% of its citizens suffered from health problems ranging from dizziness and nasal irritation to brain disorders, severe nervous system problems, and cancerous lesions that the study linked to 16 harmful chemicals produced by local oil and gas facilities. The chemicals were all found in the communities’ air in unsafe levels, as well as urine and blood samples.
A similar slew of health problems have been seen in nearby Argyle and Bentonville. In these communities, 7 harmful gasses were found in ambient air before the oil and gas boom. Recent tests at their high school’s band practice lot found 65 of the 84 air contaminants tested for by the EPA. The rise in air pollution was accompanied by health problems among schoolchildren, including severe asthma, dizzy spells, and chest pain.
Furthermore, a study from The City of Fort Worth reported this year that metro-area oil and gas exploration produces over 20,000 tons of gases annually, including dozens of harmful pollutants, often due to faulty equipment such as open hatch tops and corroded tanks. The study also found highly toxic benzene in 94% of air samples.
Meanwhile, Texas-based oil companies that participate in hydraulic fracturing are among Fortune 500’s top earners, raking in billions of dollars of profit per year to shareholders, while leaking toxic and polluting chemicals into Texas’ air. Company profits should be based on hard work and smart management, not irresponsible policies that put citizens and the environment in peril. The oil and gas companies are making a killing with all this drilling. They can certainly afford to install pollution controls. We Texans have to pay to get emissions inspections for our cars and pay to repair them if they pollute. It’s only fair that the oil and gas industry do their part to help reduce air pollution.
The new EPA rules are commendable. They provide long-awaited standards that both increase profits to the private sector by recovering tons of lost natural gas, while reducing smog-forming pollutants by 25%, cutting methane emissions by 26%, and decreasing air toxics by nearly 30%.
However, the proposed rules can be improved. For example, the rules do not include a standard for emissions from liquids unloading activities, includes loopholes for older compressors and storage tanks, and does not hold up to the strict standards of some states, such as Wyoming.
These new standards represent a significant step in reducing air pollutants from the oil gas industry, a strong involvement of the EPA to create meaningful, broad regulations, and a tangible reduction of harmful air pollutants. They show that environmental and public health laws can also be cost-beneficial for the private sector, and should be used as a standard for even more stringent policies that significantly cut air and water pollutants that put our health and environment at risk.
Environmental Protection Agency: “EPA's Proposed Air Pollution Standards for the Oil and Natural Gas Sector”. Preliminary Analysis. September 2011