Testimony of Melanie Houston, Director of Water Policy & Environmental Health - September 29, 2015 - Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New and Modified Sources

October 2, 2015

US EPA administrators:

Thank you for this opportunity to testify in support of the proposed rule intended to reduce methane and VOC pollution from the oil and gas industry. I am presenting on behalf of the Ohio Environmental Council, and I plan to share with you today the stories of a handful of citizens from Ohio who are experiencing the impacts of shale gas development.

In Ohio, we have over 1,600 drilled and over 2,000 permitted shale gas wells, and approximately 75 compressor stations proposed, under construction, or currently operating. Pipeline development is also projected to grow rapidly in the next two years. All of this means that the number of Ohioans who will be affected by methane and VOC emissions is going to grow rapidly as well.

I’d like to share a brief, personal story to put the remainder of my testimony in context:

This past Saturday morning at 7am sharp, a diesel truck parked and began idling about ten feet from my front door. It woke up everyone in my family and created a cloud of diesel fumes outside our windows. Major construction had begun on the storm drains surrounding my home, yet we had received no notice that this was coming. The noise was overwhelming at times: loud, rumbling trucks; jackhammering, heavy equipment thundering and beeping. I was so angry that I marched outside in my pajamas to ask the one person I could find, the truck driver, to turn off his engine. And he did. 

I have thought a lot about the challenges of my fellow Ohioans living next to this new wave of oil and gas development. But until this experience, I hadn’t really FELT what they are going through. Folks living near this development are much less likely to get a “yes” response if they ask the operator of the well pad, or a diesel truck, or a compressor station to stop.” And this represents a total loss of control over the quality of the air and the immediate environment surrounding their homes. Many families, by the way, who choose a rural settling to raise their families because of the peace and quiet and the clean air and water. Can you imagine how frustrating that would be? I know that the construction outside my front door is only temporary, but the folks in eastern Ohio are faced with infrastructure which will be in place for years, if not decades.         

At OEC, we’ve begun talking with citizens who are negatively affected by the fracking industry. I haven spoken multiple times with a woman who lives about 600 feet from the site of  a major fracking chemical fire. She, her fiancé and her son stayed in their home the night of the fire despite the chemicals in the air and the explosion risk because all of the nearby hotels were full with oil and gas workers.

I’ve talked with a father who lived within a mile of a fracking well blow out which leaked methane and other harmful air emissions for over ten days. His family and twenty or so other households were evacuated and uncertain of whether they would be able to return to their homes before the Christmas holiday. He was unnerved and frustrated at the lack of information he could obtain about what he and his family were being exposed to. 

I also have also spoken with a former aluminum worker who lives directly downwind from a compressor station and near several fracking well pads. He has had his home test positive for the presence of methane, and passive air sampling showed elevated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) right outside of his home. His wife is currently battling breast cancer and yet she continues to be exposed to air contaminants beyond their control. This gentleman told me that some days his dogs will not go outside, and that the smell outside his home was so bad one day that its brought him to his knees.

And finally I've read over a civil case, which is now settled, of a family in Ohio who have suffered many documented health problems from a compressor station just 350 feet from their front door:  nausea, vomiting, and an ongoing burning sensation of the nose and throat most likely due to methane and hitchhiker VOC emissions.

These folks deserve protection. They need this rule . . .  as soon as possible

And they need a rule to address existing sources, not just new and modified sources.

The oil and gas industry must take responsibility for their pollution, rather than asking the public and our environment to bear the burden.

I hope that the EPA will strengthen and finalize these rules and move swiftly to issue standards covering existing sources.