Environmental Groups Map EPA Oil, Gas, Air Pollution Data

The map marks active oil and gas wells, color codes jurisdictions based on its rating in the EPA's National Air Toxics Assessment, and provides information on each state's oil and gas standards.

by Emma Discher, The Houma Courier, La. / July 13, 2016

(TNS) -- Louisiana's Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes are high on the Environmental Protection Agency's level of concern for cancer and respiratory risks attributed to oil and gas air pollution, according to a newly released oil and gas threat map.

The map marks active oil and gas wells, color codes parishes based on its rating in the EPA's National Air Toxics Assessment and provides information on each state's oil and gas standards.

“We went about it by getting data on acting oil and gas wells from states' regulatory agencies around the country,” Earthworks Strategic Communications Director Alan Septoff said. “That's the yellow dotted area that you see. Our partners, the Clean Air Task Force, used the EPA's national emission inventory and national air toxic assessment to evaluate the elevated cancer risk and respiratory risk attributable only to oil and gas air pollution and that's fossil fumes.

"The report that's on the website, and it's on the map the darkest red counties, once it gets from pink to red those are the counties with elevated levels of concern according to EPA standard of one in a million.”

The website and map were put together by a group of environmental groups including Earthworks, the Clean Air Task Force and FracTracker Alliance. Its goal is to spread awareness about methane pollution and ultimately support the federal and state governments in issuing rules that would cut pollution from existing sources in the oil and gas industry.

“This type of pollution doesn't have to happen,” Septoff said. “The goal of this is to encourage states, and frankly in a state like Louisiana, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to issue strong standards to cut methane and related pollution. They are evaluating doing that. The EPA issued what we call the new source rules that would cover this kind of pollution from new oil and gas facilities. But those rules that were issued in May don't cover the 1.2 million facilities that are listed on this map. Those facilities that are hurting people now need help and that's ultimately what we hope will become of this.”

According to the data, Lafourche has 147 oil and gas facilities and 5,112 out of the 96,318 residents are affected by the pollution. There are 151 oil and gas facilities in Terrebonne and 15,938 of the 111,860 residents affected by the pollution.

Septoff said he hopes that the interactive nature of the map can make people see where they fit into the discussion.

“People kinda know that this is a problem, but many people ... think of it as someone else's problem,” he said. “(The map) lets anyone go and search any street address and find out where, if you live within an area, where there's actually elevated risk or within the half mile threat radius where peer-reviewed science has clearly linked serious health impacts.”

Earthworks board member Wilma Subra echoed Septoff in expressing her hopes that the project will promote community action.

“A lot of people feel that the oil and gas industry is the economic base of Louisiana ... and because they feel that, they feel like they can't do anything about it,” Subra said. “When you look at the ... map, you realize how close you live to the facilities.”

Subra said that she hopes that the project will empower community members to be the “eyes and ears” of the agency and get involved in the discussion about oil and gas.

She was born and raised in Morgan City and now lives in New Iberia where she is president of the environmental consulting Subra Co. Subra previously served on the Environmental Protection Agency National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology, the National Advisory Committee of the U.S. Representative to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation and the EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

The website and map launched in early June. Organizers immediately began sharing the reports in hope of impacting policy, but it will take time.

“We are briefing some regulators in hopes to do more in the future,” Septoff said. “It's too soon to tell. We've gotten some pretty strong positive reactions from some folks. We're hoping to make as big an impression as we can.”

Income level data, more infrared videos and more testimonials will be added to the website starting in late August. The website can be found at oilandgasthreatmap.com.

©2016 The Houma Courier, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.