Marcus FranklinToday's guest post comes from Marcus Franklin, MPA, research and systems manager with the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program. Franklin works on research projects and policy engagement surrounding community energy justice and climate resilience. Here he discusses findings of the NAACP and Clean Air Task Force study, "Fumes Across the Fence-Line: The Health Impacts from Oil & Gas Facilities on African American Communities"

Fence-line communities are communities located next to a corporate, industrial or service facility and directly affected in some way by the facility’s operation (e.g. noise, odor, traffic, chemical emissions).

Most fence-line communities in the U.S. are low-income, communities of color and other groups who experience systemic oppression. This exposes them to health, economic and social hazards. The placement of oil and gas facilities is more often than not an act of oppression.

The NAACP and Clean Air Task Force’s study, "Fumes Across the Fence-Line: The Health Impacts from Oil & Gas Facilities on African American Communities," highlights the health impacts of air pollutants from oil and gas facilities on the health of African-American communities across the U.S., particularly those communities adjacent to these facilities.

Oil and gas facilities often are intentionally placed in African-American, low-income and other marginalized communities because of their perceived lack of political power and value. In other instances, facilities have also been sited in neighborhoods transitioning to those populated primarily by person of color. In these neighborhoods, those that do not have the resources to leave are left behind. Lower property values trap low-income households that cannot afford to live elsewhere.

In many cases, communities suffering from poor air quality due to polluting oil and gas infrastructure have experienced a number of health impacts — including asthma attacks, nausea, body spasms, headaches and respiratory illnesses. "Fumes Across the Fence-line" quantifies the elevated health risk that millions of African-Americans face due to pollution from oil and gas facilities. It found that:

  • More than 1 million African-Americans live within a half mile of existing natural gas facilities and the number is growing every year.
  • The air in many African-American communities violates air quality standards for ground-level ozone (smog). And, as a result of ozone increases from natural gas emissions during the summer ozone season, African-American children are burdened by 138,000 asthma attacks and 101,000 lost school days each year.
  • Over 1 million African-Americans live in counties that face a cancer risk above EPA’s level of concern from toxins emitted by natural gas facilities.
  • There are 91 counties across the U.S. that are building oil refineries, or where refineries exist, close to more than 6.7 million African-Americans, or 14 percent of the national population.

The fight to eliminate oil and gas air pollution is not only about making things better for fence-line communities; it is about eliminating poverty, racism and other social and structural inequities and ensuring that no community suffers at the hands exploitative industry. In the short-term, community members, public health professionals, advocates and others must:

  • Empower community members to learn about the oil and gas facilities located in their communities and begin tracking the impacts of facility operation. Community participatory research in the context of air quality monitoring and assessment can play a critical role in providing evidence against local polluters. It is now more important than ever for communities to become informed about and remove nearby polluting facilities.
  • Support technology that cuts air pollution as we transition to a new energy economy. Many proven, low-cost technologies and practices are available to reduce methane pollution and toxic chemicals released along with it.
  • Urge national, state and local leaders to defend methane pollution safeguards and push for additional protections to eliminate pollution from the oil and gas industry. In 2016, the EPA finalized strong methane standards covering new and modified oil and gas facilities. This would cut 510,000 tons of methane pollution from new and modified oil and gas facilities — the equivalent of 11 coal-fired power plants or taking 8.5 million cars off the road every year.

For the long-term well-being of all of our communities, we must create an energy economy based on clean, renewable energy and grounded in community choice and control of energy resources. Fence-line communities, as well as other marginalized communities, have a lot to gain from the transition away from the current fossil fuel energy economy. The air pollution that plagues communities across the country does not have to and should not exist.