Gas drilling blamed for smog

by Josh Garrett-Davis

Why would Oklahoma City, a town of 500,000 people, have higher levels of some smog-forming hydrocarbons than famously hazy metropolises like Houston, Chicago and New York? A group of atmospheric scientists from the University of California, Irvine collected hundreds of air samples across a 1,000-mile-wide area to find out. Their conclusions, released in the Oct. 6 online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, point to a culprit outside the city: oil and gas drilling.

The scientists linked high levels of pollution to oil and natural gas wells in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado. Fossil fuel production in those states emits methane and other hydrocarbons, which contribute to global warming and asthma-inducing smog. The UCI researchers say leaky oil and gas facilities and natural seepage throughout the U.S. may release up to 6 million more tons of methane a year than previously thought — nearly doubling earlier estimates.

The full report is available by subscription from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at 202-334-1333 or www.pnas.org. © High Country News