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New map, analysis chart health risks from oil and gas pollution

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Two national environmental groups have released a new analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data on oil and gas industry air pollution and an accompanying interactive map showing associated health risks that place West Virginia among states with the most elevated cancer and respiratory health threats.

The analysis was produced by the Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based nonprofit focusing on reducing air pollution through research, advocacy and private sector partnerships. The interactive map, which includes oil and gas production activity and public health data for every oil and gas-producing county in the nation, was released by Earthworks, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that “stands for clean water, air and land, healthy communities and corporate responsibility,” according to its website.

According to a press release announcing the new analysis and map, the project was launched in response to the fact that “the oil and gas industry is the country’s largest and fastest-growing source of methane emissions,” as well as hazardous pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde.

“That toxic pollution presents significant cancer and respiratory health risks, underscoring the need for the EPA to clean up existing sources of toxic air pollution without delay,” the release states.

The EPA recently set new standards that for the first time will regulate methane pollution from new and modified oil and gas facilities, but did not address methane and other forms of air pollution at the nation’s 1.2 million existing wells, compressor stations and processing plants included in the Earthworks analysis. The analysis shows that 12.4 million people live within one-half mile of such facilities.

According to the Earthworks report, 238 U.S. oil and gas-producing counties, including 18 in West Virginia, face a cancer risk from exposure to gas and oil production pollutants that exceeds the EPA’s one-per-million “level of concern” threshold. Of those counties, 41 face a cancer risk above 1 in 250,000, including 10 West Virginia counties — Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Harrison, Lewis, Lincoln, Mingo, Ritchie, Tyler and Wetzel.

An additional 32 counties nationwide face respiratory health risks that surpass the EPA’s level of concern standard. Six West Virginia counties — Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Lewis, Mingo and Ritchie — fall into that category, according to the report.

The report’s accompanying “Oil and Gas Threat Map” pinpoints the locations of oil and gas wells, compressor stations and processing centers in each county, enumerates the number of people, schools and hospitals found within one-half mile of oil and gas facilities. It also allows users to look up any street address to see if it lies within a health threat radius, view infrared videos which make normally invisible pollution at hundreds of the mapped facilities visible, and watch video interviews with more than 50 citizens affected by oil and gas pollution.

The Clean Air Task Force analysis was based on the modeled cancer and respiratory health risks contained in the EPA’s National Air Toxics Assessment, EPA oil and gas point source pollution data, and EPA emission inventory projections.

To view the analysis, go to http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/FossilFumes.pdf. To view the interactive map, go to http://oilandgasthreatmap.com.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169, or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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