Interactive Map Shows Where Toxic Air Pollution From Oil and Gas Industry Is Threatening 12.4 Million Americans
Two leading national environmental groups—Clean Air Task Force (CATF) and Earthworks—unveiled a suite of tools Wednesday designed to inform and mobilize Americans about the health risks from toxic air pollution from the oil and gas industry.
For the first time, Americans across the country—from Washington County, Pennsylvania, to Weld County, Colorado to Kern County, California—can access striking new community-level data on major health risks posed by oil and gas operations across the country.
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 U.S. 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. The 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. CATF's report, Fossil Fumes, and Earthworks' Oil & Gas Threat Map focus specifically on toxic pollutants from those facilities and their resulting health impacts.
Earthworks Oil & Gas Threat Map Summary
The Oil and Gas Threat Map maps the nation's 1.2 million active oil and gas wells, compressors and processors. Using the latest peer-reviewed research into the health impacts attributed to oil and gas air pollution, the map conservatively draws a half mile health threat radius around each facility. Within that total area are:
- 12.4 million people
- 11,543 schools and 639 medical facilities
- 184,578 square miles, an area larger than California
For each of the 1,459 counties in the U.S. that host active oil and gas facilities, the interactive map reports:
- instances of elevated cancer and respiratory risk
- total affected population (with separate counts for Latino & African-Americans)
- total affected schools and medical facilities
The searchable map allows users to:
- look up any street address to see if it lies within the health threat radius
- view infrared videos which makes visible the normally invisible pollution at hundreds of the mapped facilities
- view 50+ interviews with citizens impacted by this pollution
“The Oil & Gas Threat Map shows that oil and gas air pollution isn't someone else's problem, it's everyone's problem," Earthworks executive director Jennifer Krill said.
“Our homes and schools are at risk while most state regulators do nothing. Although completely solving this problem ultimately requires ditching fossil fuels, communities living near oil and gas operations need the EPA to cut methane and toxic air pollution from these operations as soon as possible."
Clean Air Task Force Fossil Fumes Report Summary
Fossil Fumes, CATF's companion report to Earthworks' Oil and Gas Threat Map, is based on EPA's recent National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) analysis updated to reflect the latest emissions data from EPA's National Emissions Inventory (NEI) and the conclusions are striking.
The report finds that:
- 238 counties in 21 states face a cancer risk that exceeds EPA's one-in-a-million threshold level of concern
- Combined, these counties have a population of more than 9 million people and are mainly located in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Colorado
- Of these counties, 43 face a cancer risk that exceeds one in 250,000 and two counties in West Texas (Gaines and Yoakum) face a cancer risk that exceeds one in 100,000
- 32 counties, primarily in Texas and West Virginia, also face a respiratory health risk from toxic air emissions that exceeds EPA's level of concern (with a hazard index greater than one)
“The Fossil Fumes report and Earthwork's Interactive Threat Map will allow concerned citizens to learn the cancer and respiratory risks they face from toxic air pollution from the oil and gas industry," Lesley Fleischman, CATF technical analyst and author of Fossil Fumes, said. “Armed with this information, we trust that citizens and communities will demand protective safeguards requiring industry to clean up its act and reduce these serious risks to public health."
"The Oil & Gas Threat Map and Fossil Fumes are outstanding tools for nurses, their patients and affected communities to better understand the health risks posed by oil and gas facilities," Katie Huffling, director of programs for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, said.
“As nurses, we are especially concerned by the number of schools and hospitals revealed to be within a half mile of an active oil and gas facility. The best available science shows that methane and toxic chemicals emitted by these facilities threaten our most vulnerable citizens, which is why we encourage the EPA to quickly address this pollution."
Other key findings of the map and report at the statewide level include:
- Los Angeles County, California is home to the most impacted "vulnerable" populations: there are more impacted schools and hospitals in Los Angeles than any other county in America (226 schools and 60 hospitals)
- There are particularly widespread impacts in Texas, with 15 counties with more than 75 percent of their populations living within ½ mile risk radius and 32 percent of Texas counties have elevated oil and gas health risks (82 out of 254)
- Almost 25 percent of all Pennsylvanians live within the half-mile threat radius
“The Oil & Gas Threat Map and Fossil Fumes show more than 12 million Americans need protection from oil and gas industry air pollution as soon as possible. Industry talks about voluntarily reducing their pollution, but refuses to make binding commitments," Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel said.
"Some states like Colorado have stepped up, but other states like Texas have vowed never to regulate greenhouse gases and associated toxics. It is only the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that can act to protect all Americans, their health and the climate from this pollution."
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.