Air-Quality Apocalypse in Farmington!

When you’re winning, sit down and shut up.

It’s an important lesson for those of us in the public-policy world, but it’s one the environmental left had never learned, and that’s probably why greens continue to ignore progress on air quality — preferring instead to concoct fresh bogeymen created by the nation’s fracking-driven energy renaissance.

As the chart below, taken from the EPA, shows, air pollution (e.g., lead, particulate matter, carbon monoxide) has declined substantially in recent decades.

But good news for the environment = bad news for eco-scare fundraising. So professional alarmists are now focusing their fire on energy-producing regions in the hinterlands. Their latest imagined cataclysm is the “health impacts experienced by … rural communities as a result of the increased air pollution from oil and gas operations.”

That’s the dire message of “Country Living, Dirty Air: Oil and Gas Pollution in Rural America,” released by Earthworks and the Clean Air Task Force. It names folks in the Land of Enchantment’s San Juan County as “people … that [sic] have been negatively affected by oil and gas development over the past several years.”

The “report” doesn’t offer a shred of original research/analysis of health trends in the northwestern part of the state. Far from it. The document’s New Mexico portion consists of 368 words — well below the standard length of an op-ed piece. But it does offer this gem:

With 22 years in Farmington, New Mexico, including 12 years as the Energy and Climate Program Manager for the San Juan Citizens Alliance … Mike Eisenfeld and his family are all too familiar with the brown cloud and smog that frequently hangs over his home in San Juan County. Mike noticed that the smog grew as the oil and gas extraction rapidly expanded in the area.

Clearly, Eisenfeld doesn’t know what he is talking about. Recent years have seen petroleum production in the region wax and wane, with the variance in the global price for crude. Natural-gas production in the basin has declined — substantially — in the last dozen years. (The New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department’s annual reports confirm that San Juan County lost its most-gas-production-in-the-state title to Eddy County in 2016.)

Predictably, “Country Living, Dirty Air: Oil and Gas Pollution in Rural America” charges that “rates of asthma, in particular in children, continue to rise” in San Juan County. No mention is made of the fact that asthma rates have been increasing, nationally, for decades. Also neglected is the statement by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology — an organization that’s surely doing the bidding of the Koch Brothers — that a “leading theory behind the rising allergy and asthma diagnosis rates is the ‘hygiene hypothesis,'” which posits that “living conditions in much of the world might be too clean and that kids aren’t being exposed to germs that train their immune systems to tell the difference between harmless and harmful irritants.” (Other explanations include “increased antibiotic use,” the obesity epidemic, and Vitamin D deficiency.)

“Country Living, Dirty Air: Oil and Gas Pollution in Rural America” cites a decade-old, pre-fracking-era New Mexico Department of Health study that linked “the frequency of respiratory emergency room visits to high ozone days” — without mentioning that the American Lung Association found that in 2014, 2015, and 2016, San Juan County experienced a grand total of four high-ozone days. Not one was rated red (unhealthy), purple (very unhealthy), or maroon (hazardous). All four days were rated orange (unhealthy for sensitive groups).

In 2015, the ALA named Farmington “the second-cleanest [city] among the 220 U.S. metropolitan areas in annual particle pollution.” And EPA data show that since the turn of the century, other pollutants have declined in the Farmington core-based statistical area.

As for methane emissions, they “present no human health or environmental threat,” and OSHA “does not list any exposure threshold … nor does the agency list any long-term health effects.” The Pennsylvania Department of Health notes that methane has “no demonstrable toxicity,” “is not expected to cause cancer,” and “does not accumulate in the body and is rapidly eliminated in breath, urine, and flatus.”

Last year, EPA figures revealed that the San Juan Basin’s oil-and-gas-related emissions are falling — at a rate faster than the area’s decline in natural-gas production.

Errors of Enchantment can’t speak to Ohio’s Noble County, Utah’s Uintah County, or the other “case studies” listed in “Country Living, Dirty Air: Oil and Gas Pollution in Rural America.” But it’s obvious that Earthworks, the Clean Air Task Force, and its allies at the San Juan Citizens Alliance care nothing about the science of air quality and energy production in San Juan County, New Mexico. The data, after all, get in the way of a good eco-terrorization.

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