Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibilityReport: Parts of West Virginia at a high cancer risk due to gas and oil fumes | WLUK
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Report: Parts of West Virginia at a high cancer risk due to gas and oil fumes

(Clean Air Task Force)
(Clean Air Task Force)
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A recent report from a nonprofit group said some West Virginians are at a high risk of cancer because of pollution associated with the oil and gas industry, but an organization that represents those industries disputes the data.

The report from the Clean Air Task Force included a map that shows more than half of West Virginia's counties exceed the Environmental Protection Agency's level of concern for cancer risks.

Meanwhile, the report comes as new data was released Wednesday from the U.S. Energy Information Administration that shows gas production in the United States set a new record in 2021.

The Gas and Oil Association of West Virginia disputes the data in the Clean Air Task Force Report. It points out that although the report came out in September, this is an analysis of data collected by the EPA in 2017. CATF experts explained that they used EPA projections and gas/oil trends to update the data to a more recent date.

The Appalachian Basin, which includes West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, produces a third of all natural gas produced in the United States, according to the Energy Information Administration.

“(West Virginia) sits on top of the richest deposit of natural gas maybe the country - on top of the Marcellus and Utica shales,” Charlie Burd, executive director of the Gas and Oil Association of West Virginia, said.

Burd points to another report from CATF that seems to show that while the production of natural gas in West Virginia increased, greenhouse gas emissions decreased between 2018 and 2020. He said as a result of voluntary agreements with the Department of Energy and EPA, the gas and oil industry reduced emissions by about 70% in Appalachia.

"West Virginia produces the cleanest natural gas in the world and we’re very proud of that," Burd said. "We feel, given the opportunity to produce more, we help better contribute to the reduction of emissions than any other place.”

Eyewitness News reached out to EPA about the report and got the following statement:

Thank you for your inquiry about air pollution from oil and natural gas operations. We are reviewing the report you cited. In November 2021, EPA proposed a rule that would sharply reduce methane and other harmful air pollution – including air toxics like benzene, ethyl benzene, toluene and xylene -- from both new and existing sources in the oil and natural gas industry. The Agency received nearly 500,000 written comments on the proposal and held a three day public hearing. EPA has reviewed those comments to develop a supplemental proposal, which may revisit, refine, or expand upon elements of the proposal we issued in November. EPA expects to issue the supplemental proposal for public review and comment in the coming weeks.

Lesley Feldman, research and analysis manager on the Methane Pollution Prevention Team at CATF, said the organization is familiar with the rule proposed in 2021 and supports it, but it included a loophole for leak inspections.

“We hope the EPA closes that loophole so that all facilities will be required to make those inspections," Feldman said. "In general, we think that the EPA is going in the right direction and they have a huge opportunity right now to finalize those rules and that will significantly reduce methane emissions but also protect communities from these hazardous air pollutants.”

On the other side, Burd said he believes the new EPA rule would be unnecessary since gas and oil companies are already prioritizing safety and the environment.

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"This new round of potential penalties for not reducing even greater (than the companies already do) sort of fly in the face to those companies who have already made these voluntary efforts to reduce emissions,” he said.

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