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New Map Shows More People Live within Oil & Gas "Threat Radius"


Wednesday, May 25, 2022   

A newly created map reveals more Americans are being exposed to health threats from proximity to oil-and-gas production facilities. The map's release Tuesday comes ahead of new industry safeguards expected from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Map co-creator Alan Septoff with the group Earthworks said more than 144,000 New Mexicans live within a "threat radius" of an oil or gas facility - defined as being a half-mile. Since the group's first nationwide analysis in 2017, Septoff said, millions more people have been added to the threat radius map.

"Seventeen-point-three million people live within the threat radius - up 4.7 million from five years ago," he said. "Almost 4 million kids under 18 live within the threat radius; 3.2 million students go to school at 12,400 schools."

New safeguards being considered by the EPA would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and associated toxic air pollution from new and existing oil-and-gas facilities and address routine flaring. The gases from extraction are known to increase rates of cancer, asthma and other diseases.

Earthworks' Andrew Klooster is an optical gas imaging thermographer based in Colorado, a state with some of the strongest regulations in the country. Nonetheless, he said, what's written on paper and what's happening on the ground do not align - because the state doesn't have the capacity to enforce its regulations.

"In all the states that we work, whether it's Colorado or Texas," he said, "sites are not being inspected frequently enough and regulations are not being enforced as forcefully as they should be."

Despite a new reporting program implemented by the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division, quarterly reports show 262 operators did not file information about how much natural gas was lost to venting and flaring. Klooster said that's why new oil-and-gas development is making the problem worse.

"The industry, by and large, is still policing itself when it comes to air-quality violations," he said, "and there's a presumption on the part of regulators that they're voluntarily complying with most of the rules that have been adopted. The result of this presumption is pollution that continues to harm communities in all of the states that we work."

Disclosure: Sierra Club, Rio Grande Chapter contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Public Lands/Wilderness, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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