FRANKFORT, Ky. – More than 151,000 Kentuckians live near an active oil or gas operation, what the environmental organization Earthworks, said is within the “threat radius” of toxic emissions. A new map created by Earthworks pinpoints nearly 12,000 active oil and gas facilities that are within a half mile of neighborhoods, schools and medical facilities, potentially raising the risk for respiratory ailments, cancer and fetal defects.
Jim Scheff, director or Kentucky Heartwood said the map is a helpful tool.
“Because a lot of times we don’t see these things,” he said. “Sometimes you can smell them, sometimes you know they’re there, but sometimes you don’t. We can look at these maps and see where these things are clustered and what populations might be at increased risk.”
In addition to tens of thousands of Kentuckians, 282 schools and five medical facilities are close to active gas and oil wells, compressors or processor stations. The Earthworks map shows that people in eight Kentucky counties, all clustered in the far eastern part of the state, face a cancer risk that exceeds the EPA’s level of concern.
The EPA recently finalized a rule to reduce methane emissions released by new or modified oil and gas operations by 2025. It’s a good first step, said Conrad Schneider, advocacy director with the Clean Air Task Force. But he contended that standards are needed for current facilities.
“The lion’s share of these emissions come from the existing oil and gas infrastructure,” he said. “And EPA has committed to issue regulations on that portion of the industry, those existing sources. We’ll need that in order to reduce these cancer risks.”
Scheff said the state and federal governments have done “a very poor job” monitoring and addressing toxic emissions from oil and gas operations. Plus, Kentucky forbids communities from restricting or regulating the placement of wells.
“Kentuckians have no power to say, ‘We don’t want this in our community,'” he added. “‘We don’t want to have to suffer the health impacts of this infrastructure.’ It’s forced upon us by the state and by the industry and that’s a real problem.”