Ranking Members Waxman and DeGette Urge EPA to Review Study of Health Threats from Gas Drilling Operations
Today Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson requesting that the EPA consider a new study by the Colorado School of Public Health that reveals potential increased health threats from exposure to toxic chemicals near natural gas wells. The EPA is currently finalizing new standards for natural gas operations to reduce emissions that can cause cancer and other serious health effects.
The full text of the letter is below and also available online here.
April 3, 2012
The Honorable Lisa Jackson
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
Dear Administrator Jackson:
EPA is working to finalize new standards for oil and gas operations to reduce emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds and toxic air pollutants that can cause cancer and other serious health effects. As you consider these standards, we ask that you consider a new study from the Colorado School of Public Health that raises concerns about the potential public health impact of air emissions from unconventional gas drilling operations. The findings from this study, while preliminary, reinforce the importance of your forthcoming rules and the need for additional research.
Scientists at the Colorado School of Public Health examined three years of air monitoring data in Garfield County, Colorado and concluded that residents living near natural gas wells may face increased exposure to benzene, a known human carcinogen, and other toxic chemicals, such as ethylbenzene, toluene, and xylene. The researchers found higher lifetime cancer risks for people living closer to the wells. They also concluded that these nearby residents have a higher risk of experiencing neurological and respiratory health effects, such as headaches, throat and eye irritation, impaired lung capacity, dizziness, fatigue, numbness in the limbs, and tremors.
The authors concluded:
[P]reliminary results indicate that health effects resulting from air emissions during development of unconventional natural gas resources are most likely to occur in residents living nearest to the well pads and warrant further study. Risk prevention efforts should be directed towards reducing air emission exposures for persons living and working near wells during well completions.
We support the responsible and safe production of U.S. oil and natural gas resources. The good news is that we can control potentially harmful air emissions from drilling operations by implementing proven technology and best practices already in use today. We hope that you will consider the results of this new study in your rulemaking, and we look forward to reviewing EPA’s new rules once finalized.
Henry A. Waxman
The Honorable Cliff Stearns
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
 Lisa M. McKenzie, Roxana Z. Witter, Lee S. Newman, and John L. Adgate, Colorado School of Public Health, Human Health Risk Assessment of Air Emissions from Development of Unconventional Natural Gas Resources (Mar. 2012). The study will be published in an upcoming edition of Science of the Total Environment.
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