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Citizens Support Tough Standards Against Natural Gas Industry Pollution

JOINT RELEASE: Clean Air Action * Clean Air Council * Clean Water Taskforce * Earthworks * Group Against Smog & Pollution * Penn Environment * Pittsburgh Student Environmental Coalition * Sierra Club

Pittsburgh, PA, September 27th — Today, hundreds of families and concerned citizens gathered at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh for the first of only three public hearings held by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on a proposed safeguard to reduce harmful air pollution from the extraction, transmission, and storage of oil and gas. These are also the first-ever federally proposed safeguards aimed at cutting harmful air pollution from hydraulic fracturing.

Such federal laws are critical because they provide consistent standards that — through oversight and enforcement by the EPA and other agencies — can help to ensure that all Americans nationwide have basic protection from significant risks to their health and environment. As the oil and gas industry rapidly expands into new areas and uses new technologies to develop unconventional sources of fossil fuels, current standards and practices haven't kept pace and revision is necessary.

The oil and gas industry currently releases millions of tons of pollutants, including methane, benzene, and sulfur dioxide into our air each year, some of which create conditions that contribute to serious and lasting health problems such as asthma, cancer, and neurological issues. In addition, methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide and a key source of climate change.

Currently more than 50% of Pennsylvanians live in an area that doesn't meet the EPA's air quality standards for smog and over a million PA residents suffer from asthma. Yet according to the PA Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), nearly 4,000 Marcellus Shale wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania, while the industry predicts upwards to 50,000 new wells in the state over the next two decades. According to the EPA, the oil and gas industry fractures or re-fractures more than 25,000 wells each year nationwide.

“Josh Fox had it right in the documentary movie GASLAND. His camera showed both the visible and invisible emissions of air contaminants from the gas fields for all to see,” said Jeff Schmidt, Director of Sierra Club's PA Chapter. “Air pollution from gas drilling and production is indeed dangerous and is harmful to people's health. We need EPA to promptly enact strong air regulations to protect us from the natural gas industry.”

Pam Judy of Clean Water Action and resident of Greene County said “The proposed EPA regulations are an important first step in addressing air quality to protect individuals and families like mine who experience health issues such as extreme headaches, nose bleeds and dizziness or can no longer spend time enjoying the outdoors because of emission fumes caused by the oil and gas industry.”

“The EPA recognizes what many citizens living near oil and gas facilities have known for a long time: fossil fuel production is dirty and harmful to health,” said Nadia Steinzor of Earthworks' Oil and Gas Accountability Project. “The new rules would require companies to take measures to reduce emissions and require that they be held accountable for damage, while equally protecting all Americans from pollution.”

“While the proposed rules are a good first step, oil and gas operations in Pennsylvania and across the country continue to threaten public health and air quality and much work remains,” said Jay Duffy, staff attorney and Marcellus Shale Program Director at the Clean Air Council. “The time is now for EPA to stand strong and live up to its name.”

“How long are we going to continue to allow multi-billion dollar drilling companies such as ExxonMobil and Chevron to laugh all the way to the bank while our children gasp for air all the way to the emergency room?” said PennEnvironment's Erika Staaf. “If the industry believes it is more important to continue the status quo and put their profits ahead of the public's health, they can offer comments during the public comment period. We hope the EPA forges ahead and implements the strongest oil and gas industry air protections as soon as possible.”

“While Clean Air Task Force strongly supports EPA's draft rule to regulate the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the oil and gas industry, they are missing a critical opportunity to directly address the industry's methane emissions,” said David McCabe, Atmospheric Scientist for Clean Air Task Force. “Natural gas is mostly methane, a highly potent climate pollutant and much more dangerous, pound-for-pound, than CO2. As the gas industry is the biggest source of methane pollution in the US, mostly through intentional releases of gas into the air, EPA's final rule must also regulate leaks and wasteful releases of methane from the oil and gas industry to combat this source of dangerous climate pollution.”

Janet McIntyre, a resident of Evans City and GASP member, pleaded with EPA to help, adding “I used to enjoy the clean air and water where I live, but the industry, who call themselves 'good neighbors,' has taken that from me. I want it back. But where do you turn, when it's just you fighting against those 'good neighbors'?”

“Over the past 40 years, the EPA has worked to defend clean water and air on the promise of a greener and healthier future for the American people,” said Katherine Luke of the Pittsburgh Student Environmental Coalition. “Now more than ever, such regulation is necessary on oil and gas extraction to preserve the Pennsylvania landscape and carry the progressive promise of a cleaner environment through to my generation and those to come.”

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