In partnership with Bold Oklahoma and Stop Fracking Payne County, today Earthworks released new infrared videos of oil and gas air pollution in Oklahoma. The infrared videos — which make visible normally invisible air pollution — along with video testimonials from impacted community members are part of a national interactive map created by Earthworks, Clean Air Task Force and FracTracker Alliance, OilAndGasThreatMap.com.
The 8 infrared videos released today show air pollution directly across from homes, public parks and baseball fields, and on tribal lands in the Ponca Nation. The sources of pollution included open produced water tanks, open oil holding tanks, venting, leaks, and unmarked facilities — problems that states like Colorado have enacted strong standards to curb with industry support.
“We've wanted stronger rules to protect Payne County ever since we spotted helicopters with geologic formation detection equipment all around the edges of town looking for oil and gas,” said Kel Pickens, a co-founder of Stop Fracking Payne County. “It is completely unacceptable to have toxic pollution billowing out of tanks and pipes next to homes and public parks. Our regulatory agencies and officials for Stillwater, Payne County, and the state need to open their eyes. Now that we have infrared video it's clear as day, the pollution is all around us.”
The Oil and Gas Threat Map maps the locations of the 29,912 active oil & gas wells, compressors & processors in Oklahoma. It also calculates that within a ½ mile of those facilities:
- 99 thousand Oklahomans live;
- 69 schools and 7 medical facilities are sited; and
- 3,812 square miles of Oklahoma are covered
Peer-reviewed science shows that living near polluting oil and gas operations is linked to negative health impacts, including fetal defects and respiratory ailments. Those negative health impacts are most clearly correlated at distances of ½ mile or less, although science suggests those outside ½ mile can be negatively impacted as well.
“Our community has been consistently polluted by the refinery and other industrial plants, but I had no idea that the countless wells that dot our roads, reservation and communities were also polluting our air,” said Mekasi Camp Horinek, director of Bold Oklahoma. He continued, “We must stop this toxic pollution from harming the families of the Ponca and the farmers and ranchers who stand with us against this threat.”
The oil and gas industry is the country’s largest and fastest-growing source of methane emissions. And its facilities emit numerous other hazardous and toxic air pollutants along with methane—including benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and ethylbenzene. That toxic pollution presents significant cancer and respiratory health risks, underscoring the need for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up existing sources of toxic air pollution without delay.
The EPA recently signed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) that for the first time will regulate methane pollution from new and modified oil and gas facilities, preventing some of the sector’s future toxic air pollution from being released. EPA’s current regulations addressing the industry’s toxic air pollution are limited and the NSPS does not cover the 1.2 million existing facilities in 33 states.
“Clearly Oklahoma’s state regulators are not doing enough to protect Oklahomans from oil and gas’ methane and associated toxic air pollution,” said Earthworks’ certified thermographer Sharon Wilson. She continued, “I’ve seen this type of pollution in every one of the 13 states I have visited with Earthworks’ infrared camera. It is clear to me that we need nationwide rules to protect all Americans, and especially in places like Oklahoma where the state is apparently unwilling to do so.”