Oil and Gas Flaring in the Permian Basin is Releasing Dangerous Amounts of Sulfur Dioxide, Violating Air Quality Standards
Odessa, TX – The Odessa, Texas, chapter of the NAACP and seven environmental organizations today petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address unhealthy levels of air pollution in the Permian Basin hub of Ector County, where levels of sulfur dioxide pollution far exceed federal health-based limits.
The petition is based on new scientific evidence showing that Ector County, home of the city of Odessa, is failing to meet the federal health-based National Ambient Air Quality Standard for human exposure to sulfur dioxide (SO2).
Sulfur dioxide is a dangerous air pollutant that harms people and animals, and acidifies soil and water. Short-term exposures to SO2 can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult. People with asthma, particularly children, are especially sensitive to these effects of SO2.
Industry self-reported sulfur dioxide releases from flaring activity around Odessa are causing levels of air pollution more than double the national health-based standard throughout the county, including at churches and residences, according to the petition filed today by attorneys for the Environmental Integrity Project and the Environmental Defense Fund on behalf of the Odessa Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Earthworks, the Lone State Chapter of the Sierra Club, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Environment Texas, and Public Citizen, Inc.
“This evidence confirms what residents of Ector County have known for years, that their air is not safe to breathe,” said Environmental Integrity Project Attorney Colin Cox. “We are asking EPA to bring flaring under control in order to protect the health and safety of West Texans.”
“Because of weak or no regulations in the Permian Basin for air quality, our most vulnerable populations are constantly at risk, causing them to suffer from a variety of health problems,” said Gene O. Collins, Sr., M.Ed, Environmental Justice Committee Chairman for the Texas State NAACP. “High rates of asthma and other respiratory problems contribute to underperforming trends of our children in school, health and quality of life issues with our seniors, and dangerous and sometimes fatal conditions to our oil and gas workforce. We must stop ignoring these life or death issues with poor regulations and lack of enforcement by our agencies.”
“Since 2013, oil and gas companies have flared almost a trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Permian with virtually no protection for the communities that have to breathe the results,” said Colin Leyden, Director at the Environmental Defense Fund. “The Texas Railroad Commission has ignored years of pressure to address the problem. We’re calling on the EPA to make sure Texans have the basic safeguards they deserve.”
The petition is based on new evidence, including an air quality modeling analysis showing that up to 26 percent of Ector County—252 square miles—experienced air quality that violated the national sulfur dioxide standard for human exposure, known as the National Ambient Air Quality Standard. The new study shows unhealthy levels of sulfur dioxide, often more than double the national limit, at many places throughout the county, including two churches and several homes and ranches. The study used the EPA’s regulatory air dispersion model to show where sulfur dioxide from 173 oil and gas flares in and around the county is causing unhealthy air, based on reports filed by flare operators over the most recent six-year period, 2014-2019.
The petition asks the EPA to formally recognize that air quality does not meet the health-based standard, which would require the State of Texas, working with the EPA, to remedy the issue by reducing flaring in the Permian Basin.
Luke Metzger, Executive Director, Environment Texas: “Not only is flaring wasteful, it’s exposing folks in Ector County to dangerous levels of air pollution. The EPA must stop turning a blind eye to flaring pollution.”
Cyrus Reed, Interim Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club: “EPA needs to step up to the plate and declare the obvious: Odessa is polluted and the citizens of the area are suffering from bad air quality.”
Robin Schneider, Executive Director for Texas Campaign for the Environment: “EPA must enforce the national air quality standards and effectively stop the dangerous levels of flaring and venting that’s making people sick and in some cases killing people in Texas’ Permian Basin.”
Adrian Shelley, Texas Director, Public Citizen: “Drillers in the Permian Basin have known for years how much they pollute—they just think no one is paying attention. Now we have the data to prove the air isn’t safe to breathe. If the oil and gas industry won’t protect our health, the EPA must. It’s time to get control of the industry and protect the health and safety of people in West Texas.”
Sharon Wilson, Senior Field Advocate, Earthworks: “This petition is necessary because Texas regulators are more concerned with protecting oil and gas companies than the public.”
The Environmental Integrity Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas, that protects public health and the environment by investigating polluters, holding them accountable under the law, and strengthening public policy.
Environmental Defense Fund is an international nonprofit organization devoted to preserving the natural systems on which all life depends and, guided by science and economics, finding practical and lasting solutions to the most serious environmental problems.
NAACP Odessa Chapter is the local chapter of the national, pre-eminent civil rights organization whose mission is to secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons.
The Sierra Club is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to exploring, enjoying, and protecting the wild places of the earth; and to educating and enlisting humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.
Texas Campaign for the Environment is a grassroots organization that empowers Texans to fight pollution through sustained grassroots organizing campaigns that shift corporate and governmental policy.
Environment Texas is a non-profit advocate for clean air, clean water, and open space.
Earthworks is a national nonprofit dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of fossil fuels and striving for a just, equitable, and fair transition to clean energy.
Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power, defending democracy, resisting corporate power, and working to ensure that government works for the people—not for corporations.
Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project, (443) 510-2574 or firstname.lastname@example.org