Ozone is a well-known threat to human health. While up high ozone protects us from ultraviolet radiation, down low it corrodes lungs, triggers asthma attacks, and can even cause premature death.
The latest health science though, is showing that even at low levels, ozone is hazardous to our health. In fact, the EPA just adopted stronger limits on ozone nationwide (although the new limits were roundly criticized for not going far enough to safeguard public health).
Here in the Rocky Mountain region, we're finding that ozone is rising to the very levels that are now known to threaten our health, even in rural areas. Here's a few examples of what's going on:
- Colorado: high ozone levels have recently been recorded in Garfield County, the epicenter of western Colorado's natural gas drilling boom;
- New Mexico: state officials have conceded that San Juan County in northwestern New Mexico, the site of booming oil and gas drilling, will violate the EPA's new ozone standards;
- Wyoming: state officials have issued several unprecedented health warnings because of high ozone in western Wyoming, again the site of tremendous gas drilling impacts;
The take home message here is that ozone is no longer just an urban pollution problem in the Rocky Mountain region.
So what's to be done? If it's not already clear, there's a connection between unprecedented levels of oil and gas drilling and unprecedented levels of ozone. As we've pointed out before, the oil and gas industry is a burgeoning source of ozone forming pollution. Vapors from tanks and gas wells, as well as emissions from drill rig engines and trucks, are all on the rise. If we're going to clean up our Rocky Mountain skies, then we need to clean up the oil and gas industry.
Like we always say, although smoggy skies may be on the rise, we know what needs to be done to reverse this trend. Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action is going to start calling on states throughout the region to start cleaning up air pollution from the oil and gas industry and keeping communities safe and healthy.
Gas Drilling in the Jonah Field of Western Wyoming is Fouling the Air (image from Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, courtesy of EcoFlight).