EPA petitioned to require accurate measurement of smog-causing pollution from flares at four Colorado oil, gas well pads

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Conservation and public-health groups have filed a petition urging the Environmental Protection Agency to require adequate testing of the toxic air pollution emitted by four oil and gas well pads owned and operated by the Bonanza Creek Energy Operating Company.

New permits for the facilities fail to require adequate testing of flares used to burn off toxic pollution, according to the petition filed late Monday by the Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, 350 Colorado, Sierra Club and GreenLatinos.

The pollutants released by the facilities include volatile organic compounds (VOC) and nitrogen oxides pollution, both of which lead to the formation of ground-level ozone, commonly called smog. The facilities are located in an area of Colorado that is home to more than 3.5 million people. The region has suffered from ozone pollution in excess of the EPA’s health-based air quality standard for more than 15 years.

“There are high school students who over their entire lives have been put at risk from smog levels that science says harm health and can even kill,” said Robert Ukeiley, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The EPA has given Big Oil a free pass to ignore these well-known consequences for way too long.”

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The smog pollution caused by these facilities is linked to human health problems like asthma attacks, cardiovascular issues and premature death. Those most at risk include older adults, children and people who work outdoors. The harm smog does to plants can damage entire ecosystems and reduce biodiversity.

Nitrogen pollution is also tied to a range of health problems, including increased risk of lung and heart disease, diabetes, birth problems, cancer and even death. This pollution also leads to excess nitrates in drinking-water supplies and soils, causing toxic algal blooms and harm to plants and wildlife.

“Without actual testing to ensure that oil and gas facilities are limiting pollution as the law requires, permitting becomes a rubberstamping paperwork exercise,” said Micah Parkin, executive director of 350 Colorado. “The oil and gas industry needs to be held accountable for the damage it does to Colorado’s communities, air and water.”

Even though people are required to get their vehicle exhaust systems inspected to limit air pollution, the vast majority of permits issued to Colorado’s oil and gas industry do not require regular testing to ensure pollution from flares is not exceeding legal limits.

“Colorado doesn’t have enough inspectors to ensure that gas companies are accountable to permit levels,” said Chandra Rosenthal, Rocky Mountain office director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “Requiring upfront testing is an easy fix for EPA regional administrator KC Becker and will guarantee that the permits matter.”

“It is unfortunate that CDPHE insists on handing out permits without ensuring that the permits are enforceable and are actually protective of people and the environment,” said Ramesh Bhatt, chair of the Colorado Sierra Club conservation committee. “We urge the EPA to recognize this problem and require CDPHE to include in the permit adequate testing of the pollution generated by Bonanza Creek.”

The petition is part of an ongoing effort to compel the EPA to protect human health and the environment from air pollution from the oil and gas industry, in accordance with the requirements of the Clean Air Act. More information about the fight against air pollution is available at Protecting Air Quality Under the Clean Air Act.

Source: press release