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Environmetalists: Fracking Threatens The Air

A growing body of science is raising concerns about hydrofracking's public-health impacts from air pollution, just as the Federal EPA is completing rules to protect air quality from onshore oil-and-gas development — including fracking operations. Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports.

The EPA's new air pollution standards for natural gas projects, including fracking, are being issued under a settlement with environmental groups. New York State is presently evaluating the environmental impact of the controversial process of freeing gas from the Marcellus shale formation using pressurized water and chemicals. Jessica Ennis of the environmental group Earthjustice says it's been 25 years since the EPA last reviewed some of these air pollution standards.

A recent study by scientists with the Colorado School of Public Health found that air pollution from gas-drilling operations may cause acute and chronic health problems for nearby residents, with the greatest risk for people living closest to the wells. Earthjustice filed a lawsuit seeking new standards in 2009.

Congressman Maurice Hinchey is gathering signatures for a letter to President Barack Obama calling for stronger protections from air pollution caused by shale gas drilling. The letter calls for the finalization of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) New Source Performance Standards, which will address growing air pollution and public health impacts related to the rapid expansion of drilling in the United States, and ensure these standards are strong.

Earlier this year, Hinchey asked President Obama to back stronger environmental and public health standards to protect against the risks of hydraulic fracturing. The congressman has also called for an expansion of the ongoing EPA study. Dr. Kathy Nolan, with Catskill Mountainkeeper, says our caution has protected us here in New York.

The gas industry takes the position that fracking brings minimal impact to the environment. The Colorado air quality study, based on three years of monitoring data, found toxic petroleum hydrocarbons in the air near gas wells... chemicals detected included benzene, which is linked to blood disorders including cancer; ethylbenzene, a possible carcinogen that causes kidney damage; toluene, a neurotoxin that's also linked to kidney damage; and xylene, another neurotoxin.

The US Interior Department is reportedly planning to propose rules to regulate fracking on public lands by requiring disclosure of chemical ingredients.

Environmentalists add that heavy truck traffic typically associated with gas drilling operations also contributes to air pollution.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.