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Local News

Report: Oil and Gas Air Pollution Effects Health of Pennsylvanians

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Danielle Smith, Producer

Monday, July 10, 2023   

new study sheds light on the urgent need for policies to reduce emissions from U.S. oil and gas production, showing the public health effects are costing billions of dollars.

The research estimated in 2016, in the U.S. alone, oil and gas-related pollution caused $77 billion in health damages, contributing to 7,500 early deaths and more than 400,000 asthma exacerbations.

Dr. Barbara W. Brandom, a retired professor of pediatric anesthesiology at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the Concerned Health Professionals of Pennsylvania, said she saw firsthand the impact of poor air quality on children’s health because asthmatic kids had complications with anesthesia.

She argued the study amplifies the growing calls for robust policies and regulations to reduce emissions from the oil and gas industry.

“Any reduction in methane that’s released will be accompanied by less hazardous air pollutants, and hopefully less PM 2.5 and less things that will produce the ozone,” Brandom explained. “But basically, we need to stop burning fossil fuels.”

The Keystone State ranks in the top five among states for pollution-related health concerns. Brandom added states with fewer gas-burning cars and are switching to electric vehicles and sources of renewable energy are healthier than Pennsylvania. In the meantime, the Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing tougher regulations on methane emissions from oil and gas production.

Dr. Edward Ketyer, a pediatrician and president of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Pennsylvania, said the study looked at three important air contaminants from oil and gas activities: nitrogen oxides, ground level ozone, and fine particulate matter. He pointed out the three constituents of oil and gas pollution cause a lot of harm. He explained gas production is one of the largest emitters of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

“The study also shows that aggressive action to lower greenhouse-gas emissions, especially methane emissions, with new legislation that’s now being proposed can help solve climate change and also reduce illnesses and deaths from air pollution,” Ketyer reported. “So it’s a win-win.”

Ketyer noted the study did not investigate the potential harmful health consequences of other prominent and hazardous air pollutants present in the Keystone State’s oil and gas operations also shown to cause great harm from cradle to grave, including volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, radioactive elements and toxic fracking chemicals that become airborne during drilling and fracking.

report from last fall indicates flaring — the process of burning off methane at well sites instead of capturing it — is not as efficient as it needs to be to reduce methane pollution.

This story first appeared in Public News Service, a member-supported news site to engage, educate and advocate for the public interest.