Editor’s note: Mr. Cunningham’s commentary was first seen in the Denver Post and is fully reposted here with the author’s permission. His commentary is especially relevant inasmuch as the City of Longmont is preparing to allow drilling on Longmont’s Open Space.
As a Colorado resident, I have always enjoyed getting outside, exploring the outdoors in the Rocky Mountain National Park and breathing in the fresh air. However, that clean air is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Heavy oil and gas drilling is already spewing millions of tons of harmful pollutants Colorado’s air and it’s getting worse.
The oil and natural gas industries are dumping dangerous pollutants like methane and sulfur gases and benzene into our air, causing serious health problems ranging from asthma attacks to cancer and premature death. Drilling has increased in the growing front range suburban communities in Weld County and all across the western part of Colorado. But it’s not just here. Millions of families around the country are becoming increasingly exposed to these deadly pollutants.
Few people realize that the natural gas industry is currently exempt from the Clean Air Act. This allows natural gas companies to dump massive amounts of pollution into the air every day.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The Environmental Protection Agency can stop this deadly air pollution that is suffocating communities from Parachute and Rifle to Greenly, and across the country. For the first time ever, the EPA has proposed cost-effective pollution safeguards to close industry loopholes and clean up toxic air pollution from oil and gas production. These safeguards would cut methane pollution, asthma-causing smog and other hazardous air pollutants by nearly 4 million tons per year.
It is not surprising that the oil and gas industry is lobbying heavily against these proposed protections.
Yet these safeguards will benefit everyone – including industry. Strong air pollution protections will help oil and gas companies capture gas that currently leaks into our air during production, saving businesses an estimated $30 million each year. Cleaning up industry practices and our air just makes sense.
The EPA recently opened a comment period to ask the public what it thinks of their recently proposed pollution protections, and on Wednesday they’ll be in Denver to hear from residents affected by air pollution from oil and gas drilling. We all need to tell the EPA that we want these air safeguards to be as strong as possible.
Here in Colorado, I want children to be able to grow and raise their own families without worrying about breathing dangerous air pollution. That’s why I urge everyone in and around Denver to join us as we fight to clean up the oil and gas industry and protect clean air for our families.
Kirk Cunningham is co-chair of the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter’s Conservation Committee.