Oil, Natural Gas Air Pollution Plagues Southwest States

IRVINE, California, October 7, 2003 (ENS) - An air pollution study in three southwestern states shows that the United States appears to have underestimated its annual greenhouse gas emissions by millions of tons, air experts say. The study focused on a 1,000 mile stretch of Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas and found that oil and natural gas wells and refineries create regional air pollution levels in excess of some of the nation's smoggiest urban areas.

The researchers from the University of California at Irvine examined levels of ground level hydrocarbon gases - methane, ethane, propane and butane.

These hydrocarbons are contributors to global warming and key ingredients for the formation of ground level ozone - a major component in smog.

The regional levels studied by the researchers allied with the locations of the oil and natural gas refineries concentrated in these areas. They then compared atmospheric hydrocarbon levels in Oklahoma City and a dozen other U.S. cities. tanks

The highest high pollution levels found in the study correlated with the locations of oil and natural gas refineries. (Photo courtesy Energy Department )
The highest high pollution levels in Texas, Oklahoma, and southwestern Kansas correlated with the locations of oil and natural gas refineries, the researchers said.

In addition, they recoded levels of hydrocarbons in and around Oklahoma City that equaled or surpassed those in such high smog cities as Los Angeles, Houston, New York and Chicago.

The researchers report the air in and around the Oklahoma capital contained elevated levels of methane - and more than double the amounts of ethane, propane and butane than the air in more congested urban areas.

"Based on these findings, it appears that the U.S. is emitting four to six million tons more methane per year than previously estimated," said study coauthor F. Sherwood Rowland, who is the 1995 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. "In fact, our study suggests that total hydrocarbon emissions are higher than stated in current estimates. This means the American air pollution problem has still another new, significant aspect."

The findings were published Monday in the online journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

Similar studies of natural gas and oil regions in other countries would help better monitor global emission of greenhouse gases such as methane which contribute to air pollution and overall climate change, Rowland said.

The findings come as the some global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions appear to have stalled. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin told attendees of the World Conference on Climate Change in Moscow that Russia will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol this year.

The decision essentially derails the future of the treaty, which was signed in 1997 by 37 industrialized nations. The signatories, which included Russia and the United States, pledged to cut emissions of six leading greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2 percent by 2012. earth

Most scientists are convinced that greenhouse gas emissions are causing the planet's climate to change. (Photo courtesy the David Suzuki Foundation)
But the accord will not become legally binding until it has been ratified by 55 nations, including industrialized countries representing at least 55 percent of that group's 1990 carbon dioxide emissions.

Russia, which accounted for 17.4 percent of the world's 1990 C02 total, is key to reaching this ratification target because the United States will not sign Kyoto.

The United States accounted for 36.1 percent of the 1990 CO2 total and is responsible for more than a quarter of the worlds' total emissions of greenhouse gases.

In 2001, Bush withdrew U.S. support for the Kyoto Protocol and his administration has repeatedly questioned the scientific certainty of global warming.

Putin said Russia needs additional time to analyze the effects of climate change and Kyoto.

The Russian President said in his speech last week that global warming might be good for Russians because "we would spend less on fur coats and other warm things and agriculture specialists say our grain production would increase."

Some supporters of Kyoto worry that U.S. President George W. Bush has convinced Putin to back away from the accord - prior to his remarks at the Moscow conference, the Russian leader had visited with Bush. At a press conference with Bush, Putin stressed the importance to the Russian economy of U.S. demand for fossil fuels.

Environmentalists say Russia has had more than enough time to study the impact of ratifying Kyoto, which they believe would benefit Russians and say is critical to moving forward with an international effort to tackle climate change. Bush

President George W. Bush favors voluntary measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo by Paul Morse courtesy the White House)
"We must believe that President Putin is misinformed," said Steven Guilbeault of the international environmental group Greenpeace. "Or is he, too, now just another puppet of the Bush administration?"

Climate change has emerged as a polarizing issue for the United States. Bush is loathe to enforce mandatory C02 reductions on American industries. His administration has instead pushed forward with a voluntary program to cut the nation's greenhouse gas intensity - the ratio of emissions to economic output - by 18 percent.

Critics believe this approach will do little to reduce emissions and note that the United Nations released data this year that found U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose some 14 percent from 1990 to 2000.

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are expected to increase another 12 percent by 2012.

A bipartisan bill by Senators John McCain of Arizona and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut to force U.S. industries and manufacturers to cut greenhouse gas emissions is expected to be taken up by the U.S. Senate this month. The legislation would use a cap and trade program to cut emissions of C02 down to 2000 levels by 2010.