By CASEY JUNKINS
ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio - Environmental advocates cite a new study to suggest drilling and fracking in eastern Ohio leads to thousands of asthma attacks in Cleveland and Columbus, but industry officials say the research ignores the reduction in carbon emissions resulting from greater natural gas use.
According to the Ohio Environmental Council and the Clean Air Task Force, children in the Columbus metro area suffer 7,129 asthma attacks per year due to smog resulting from oil and natural gas operations, with another 7,558 youngsters experiencing these symptoms in the Cleveland area every year.
"What this report clearly shows us is that air pollution from the oil and gas industry can have a significant impact on children's health even in areas far from oil and gas production," Melanie Houston, director of oil and gas at the council, said.
"As the mother of a young child, I can't stress enough that safeguards are urgently needed to protect our children and communities from this dangerous pollution. Cutting methane pollution from oil and gas will have an immediate benefit for our children."
Methane is the primary constituent in the consumer product commonly referred to as natural gas. Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency want to cut methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry 45 percent by 2025.
In addition to methane, natural gas producers have confirmed the potential to discharge various amounts of these materials into the air from the operations at well sites, compressors and refineries: benzene, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide equivalent, xylenes, toluene and formaldehyde.
According to the study authors, methane production results in smog, increased levels of which make asthma attacks more likely.
"Air pollution knows no borders," said Linda Diamond of the American Lung Association spokeswoman Linda Diamond said. "Methane pollution from the oil and gas industry directly increases smog levels, which increases asthma risks in Ohio. We must do all we can to safeguard children from this toxic air pollutant."
However, Jackie Stewart, state director for Energy In Depth, said the report is "overtly biased" and developed by "anti-fracking activists."
"During the past five years, as Ohio's oil and natural gas production has soared, our air quality has in fact improved. Ironically, one of the groups that contributed to this so-called report was only a few months ago lauding this fact," Stewart said.
Officials with the Washington, D.C.-based American Petroleum Institute insist the increased use of natural gas to generate electricity helps the environment because this results in less coal burning, which in turn leads to lower carbon dioxide pollution. They believe fracking, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, allows them to produce significant quantities of natural gas to fuel power plants.
"Study after study shows that hydraulic fracturing is safe. The benefits of hydraulic fracturing have made the United States the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world, and largely due to affordable and abundant supplies of natural gas, we are also leading the world in reducing carbon and other emissions," API Upstream and Industry Operations Director Erik Milito said.