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fossil fumes

New report finds heightened cancer risk for 14 million people due to toxic air pollution emitted from U.S. oil and gas sector

September 15, 2022 Work Area: Methane

A new edition of a Clean Air Task Force report finds that nearly 14 million people in the U.S. are being put at increased risk for cancer as a result of toxic air pollution emitted alongside methane at oil and gas sites – an increase of 55% since the initial report was released six years ago.  

“Hazardous air pollution from oil and gas is not only driving climate change, but also harming public health. Adopting standards to reduce methane emissions is the best near-term strategy to address both,” said Heny Patel of Clean Air Task Force. “This report makes clear the need for wide implementation of technologies and practices readily available today, including leak detection and repair, eliminating wasteful gas venting and flaring, and updating outdated equipment that would both support methane abatement and reduce hazardous air pollution. Fortunately, EPA is considering methane regulations that, coupled with methane provisions in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, would greatly improve air quality for local communities living near oil and gas sites while reducing methane emissions, which is key to addressing climate change.” 

“This report reinforces what we already know: burning fossil fuels is not only the leading cause of climate change but also extremely hazardous to the health of frontline communities from extraction through production,” said Lauren Pagel of Earthworks. “The EPA can immediately move to protect communities by strengthening its proposed rules to cut oil and gas pollution and removing loopholes for polluters. However, no community will be safe from the impacts of oil and gas pollution until we stop permitting new drilling and begin the transition away from fossil fuels entirely.” 

The report, Fossil Fumes, analyzed EPA’s most recent Air Toxics Screening Assessment and estimated the cancer risk that can be traced back to air toxics including benzene, formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde from the oil and gas industry. Key findings include: 

  • 14 million people across 236 counties in 21 states face cancer risk exceeding EPA’s one-in-a-million threshold level of concern, due to oil and gas pollution alone; 
  • In 33 counties, the cancer risk due to oil and gas pollution exceeds one in 250,000 and in three counties the risk exceeds one in 100,000; 
  • The areas with the greatest health risk are generally located in states with the greatest amount of oil and gas infrastructure including Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Louisiana, West Virginia, Colorado, and New Mexico. 

Read the full report and explore a county-by-county analysis of cancer risk across the United States to see which counties are at the greatest risk. Readers can also search the Oil & Gas Threat Map here to find the impact of toxic air pollutants in their community.  


Press Contact

Samantha Sadowski, Communications Manager, U.S., ssadowski@catf.us, +1 202-440-1717

About Clean Air Task Force 

Clean Air Task Force (CATF) is a global nonprofit organization working to safeguard against the worst impacts of climate change by catalyzing the rapid development and deployment of low-carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies. With 25 years of internationally recognized expertise on climate policy and a fierce commitment to exploring all potential solutions, CATF is a pragmatic, non-ideological advocacy group with the bold ideas needed to address climate change. CATF has offices in Boston, Washington D.C., and Brussels, with staff working virtually around the world. Visit catf.us and follow @cleanaircatf.

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