Colorado to Join Studies of Air Quality Around Oil and Gas Fields

Colorado to Join Studies of Air Quality Around Oil and Gas Fields by Mark Jaffe, May 5, 2012, The Denver Post
What the round-the-clock sampling has detected is a brew of airborne chemicals, including traces of hazardous pollutants such as benzene, according to researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The likely source: oil and gas development in the region. … Fracking pumps fluid into a well under pressure to fracture rock, releasing oil and gas. The water, with gas and oil, flows back into pits or tanks. During this process, McKenzie found high concentrations of benzene, ethylbenzene and toluene. Benzene and ethylbenzene are carcinogens, and toluene can impair the nervous system, according to the EPA. The levels of some chemicals at rural Battlement Mesa were higher than at EPA air-toxic monitoring sites in Elizabeth, N.J., and Tulsa, Okla., McKenzie’s study found. The first major oil-field air-pollution incident in the West occurred in Pinedale, Wyo., in 2005. Levels of ozone in the air reached 140 parts per billion — nearly double the federal health standard. Ozone — created when volatile organic chemicals interact with sunlight and heat — is a corrosive gas that can cause an increase in respiratory and heart ailments. The oil and gas fields around Pinedale emitted nearly 16,100 tons of volatile organic chemicals in 2010, according to data from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. Included in those emissions were about 3,200 tons of chemicals considered by the EPA to be hazardous to human health.

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