Fractivists” Complain about Ozone Precursor Emissions from Oil & Gas E&P Sites

Several environmental groups are becoming more active in opposition to oil and gas exploration. Among those groups is WildEarth Guardians, a western based group with headquarters in Sante Fe, NM, and offices in Denver and Boulder, CO, and Tucson, AZ. An example of the increased activism was an early October workshop held in Glennwood Springs, Colorado, to discuss oil and gas exploration issues. According to an October 12, 2013 article in the Post Independent/Citizen Telegram/Free Press, “[o]ne critic of the oil and gas industry recently told an audience that while most violations of the state and federal governments’ safety limits for ground-level ozone are on the Front Range, at least one has been detected near the remote town of Rangely in the northwest corner of the state.

The article adds, that “another speaker warned that the spread of harmful chemical emissions could be greater than reported by industry and state government, and that the health complaints of some citizens on the Western Slope ‘could very well be real’ despite doubts voiced in the industry’s responses to such warnings.”

Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, issued a press release on October 7, 2013, stating “Our health and our economy are at risk because of the state’s refusal to effectively combat smog along Colorado’s Front Range. It’s time for Governor Hickenlooper to start getting serious about clean air; more delay means more pain for everyone.”

Nichols has also spoken recently at Colorado workshops complaining about emissions from oil and gas drilling sites, noting that, “where Denver and the Front Range have smog from cars and a host of other industrial sources for increased ozone pollution, the only possible reason for an ozone violation around Rangeley (northwest of Denver) is that it is at the center of active drilling for oil and natural gas. That is the primary source of air emissions [in Rangely], oil and gas.”

Nichols and several others spoke to a forum at the Glenwood Springs Community Center, which brought together a relatively small number of industry critics and “fractivists,” or activists opposed to the natural-gas extraction techniques known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

Nichols showed a PowerPoint presentation at the Glenwood Springs workshop that included the claim that, in Garfield County, the oil and gas industry accounts for 91 percent of releases of VOCs. He noted that the main source of VOC emissions is not fracking, but instead is storage tanks (71 percent), leaks (33 percent) and pneumatic devices (5 percent).

WildEarth Guardians and other activist groups are filing increasing numbers of lawsuits alleging environmental damages due to fracking. Query whether Illinois and Appalachian basin operations will find themselves in the crosshairs of this kind of litigation soon.

Edward L. "Skipp" Kropp focuses his practice in the area of environmental law and is resident in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a former Chief of the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection Office of Air Quality and former Deputy Director of the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection.
» See more articles by Edward L. Kropp
» Read the full biography of Edward L. Kropp at Steptoe & Johnson