Groups sue EPA, say drillers polluting GarCo

Two environmental groups point to air quality concerns in Garfield County in support of a lawsuit they filed Thursday against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding pollution from oil and gas drilling.

WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance say outdated federal drilling standards have helped contribute to deteriorating air quality as a result of oil and gas development.

“Federal clean air safeguards for oil and gas drilling have failed to keep pace with technology and science, putting our children, communities, and the climate at risk,” Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians said in a news release.

The groups cite levels of benzene in Garfield County, the amount of hydrogen sulfide being released into the air by drilling in northwestern New Mexico, and increasing smog in western Wyoming and metropolitan Denver.

They say the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review and update regulations every eight years but that the agency didn’t do so in the case of oil and gas rules issued in 1985 and 1999.

Cathy Milbourn, an EPA spokeswoman, said the agency would be “reviewing the lawsuit and responding appropriately.”

Colorado has been tightening its air quality regulations related to oil and gas development. In an interview, Nichols said that although states have made progress in this regard, tougher federal rules would force them to do more.

The groups’ news release said research shows an elevated, “unacceptable” cancer risk from benzene in Garfield County. Doug Hock, a spokesman for EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), said he believes the local research “doesn’t reflect the same level of concern” as what those groups characterize.

A health risk assessment conducted last year by researchers at Mesa State College and the Saccomanno Research Institute found that there is no health crisis in Garfield County.
But researchers recommended increased air monitoring related to drilling, and called on energy companies to take steps to reduce the risks of residents being exposed to toxins such as benzene.

Hock said there needs to be recognition of the steps companies are taking to reduce emissions.

He said EnCana recently began drilling locally with a rig powered by natural gas, which is cleaner-burning than diesel rigs. It is installing vapor recovery units on tank batteries and using cameras to spot emissions not visible to the naked eye.

“We continue to find ways to reduce our impacts,” he said.


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