The health impact of living near a natural gas leak

UC expert talks to BBC about issue of methane leaks at abandoned wells

The BBC talked to a University of Cincinnati professor about the ways leaking oil and natural gas wells might be affecting public health.

Studies have linked pollutants related to the oil and gas industry with as many as 710 premature deaths and tens of thousands of cases of childhood asthma nationwide each year. Leaking wells are known to release volatile organic compounds such as benzene, which has been linked to cancer.

UC Associate Professor Amy Townsend-Small

UC Professor Amy Townsend-Small. Photo/Jay Yocis/UC

The BBC spoke to UC College of Arts and Sciences Professor Amy Townsend-Small who has been studying the national problem of leaking and abandoned wells across the country.

"The highest concentrations of these non-methane hydrocarbons are in gas at wellheads, which also have the highest emission rates," Townsend-Small told the BBC.

Millions of Americans live within a mile of an orphaned oil or gas well or abandoned coal mine, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. These sites are notorious for creating air and water pollution.

Congress set aside $4.7 billion in President Biden's Infrastructure Law to inventory and cap abandoned oil and gas wells. The initiative is expected to help address the escape of methane, a greenhouse gas that is a key driver of climate change.

In a study published last year in the journal PLOS Climate, Townsend-Small recommended a proposal to cap "marginal" or low-producing wells, many of which have also been found to be leaking.

She found that these marginal wells leak methane at a disproportionate rate compared to their meager production of oil or natural gas.  

Read the BBC story.

Featured image at top: UC graduate Jacob Hoschouer measures methane emissions at the site of an abandoned well in Texas. Photo/Provided

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Regional media: UC expert talks about abandoned wells

September 15, 2022

UC College of Arts and Sciences associate professor Amy Townsend-Small talks to the WFMP program Sustainability Now! and WOSU's the Ohio Statehouse about Kentucky's leaking oil and gas wells and a new federal initiative to cap them.