The Health Impacts of Air Pollution from Oil & Gas Facilities on African American Communities

The oil and gas industry dumps 9 million tons of methane and toxic pollutants like benzene into our air each year. Methane is a greenhouse gas 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide at driving climate change and the oil and gas industry is now the largest source of methane pollution in the U.S. But methane is just one harmful air pollutant from the oil and gas industry. This paper sheds light on the health impacts of air pollutants from oil and
gas facilities that specifically threaten the health of African American communities living near oil and gas facilities and in areas far from oil and gas production.

The life-threatening burdens placed on communities of color near oil and gas facilities are the result of systemic oppression perpetuated by the traditional energy industry, which exposes communities to health, economic, and social hazards. Communities impacted by oil and gas facility operations remain affected due to energy companies’ heavy polluting, low wages for dangerous work, and government lobbying against local interests. The nature of the vulnerability of African American and other person of color fence-line communities is intersectional–subject to connected systems of discrimination based on social categorizations such as race, gender, class, etc. Health impacts from the natural gas supply chain (natural gas facilities as well as oil production facilities with associated gas) were quantifed in two reports published by Clean Air Task Force (CATF). As demonstrated in the CATF’s Fossil Fumes report, many of these toxic pollutants are linked to increased risk of cancer and respiratory
disorders in dozens of counties that exceed U.S. EPA’s level of concern. These pollutants from the natural gas supply chain also contribute to the ozone smog pollution that blankets the U.S. in the warmer months. The 2016 Gasping for Breath report, published by CATF, found that ozone smog from natural gas industry pollution is associated with 750,000 summertime asthma attacks in children and 500,000 missed school days. Among adults, this pollution results in 2,000 asthma related emergency room visits and 600 hospital admissions and 1.5 million reduced activity days.