Polluted air affects people, wildlife in Indiana

The Indiana bat is one of many species threatened by contaminated air, water and soil from oil and gas operations.

By Veronica Carter

A new study from the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental research and advocacy group, says more than 100,000 people in Indiana live close enough to oil and gas operations that their health is at risk.

The study is based on information in the Oil and Gas Threat Map, which details areas where people live within a half-mile "threat zone" from oil and gas development.

The map also lists counties with cancer and respiratory health risks that are above standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy for the American Lung Association, says these residents have cause for concern.

"Many of these facilities have leaks and essentially, methane and volatile organic compounds are leaking into the atmosphere that should be captured and put into the system, and not squandered into the air," he points out.

In Indiana, the Clean Air Task Force report says there are nearly 7,400 active oil and gas wells, compressors and processors, with 55 schools and four hospitals within the threat radius of these operations.

The report says about 19,000 asthma attacks every year in Indiana are linked to oil and gas production, and there are nearly 14,000 lost school days because of it.

Shannon Heyck-Williams, senior manager for climate and energy policy with the National Wildlife Federation, says dirty air threatens not only humans, but also Indiana's wildlife population and outdoor recreation.

"These impacts are very troubling and they're especially problematic for people and wildlife living near oil and gas facilities," she stresses. "With 103,000 people living just within a half-mile of these oil and gas facilities in Indiana, there's significant reason to take steps to cut pollution that's occurring in their backyard."

Heyck-Williams says in general, oil and gas production is hard on wildlife.

"Whether it's associated road building, whether it's drilling, there's, you know, different kinds of infrastructure that ends up displacing habitat," she explains. "There's just a number of different challenges, plus spills that can happen that directly endangers wildlife."


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