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Fracking's Dirty Air Secret

Last week, supporters of the controversial drilling practice know as fracking held a rally in Denver. According to media reports, one booster drew laughs from the crowd when he said that fracking’s economic benefits would eventually "trickle down to attorneys [and] doctors."

Colorado doctors are probably already seeing increased business because of fracking, but not in a humorous way.

Oil and gas drilling is a contributor to ozone—better known as smog—on Colorado’s Front Range.

Smog is a health problem. As the American Lung Association explains, ozone is "the most widespread pollutant in the U.S" and "is also one of the most dangerous." Smog causes shortness of breath; chest pain when inhaling; wheezing and coughing; asthma attacks; and increased need for people with lung diseases to go to the hospital to get treatment.

And let's not forget death. Thousands of premature deaths occur every year due to ozone levels above the current health standard set by the EPA.

Thanks in part to the fracking drilling boom, smog has gotten worse in Colorado over the past couple of years.

How bad?  This summer was the worst Front Range smog year since 2006 with a month of unhealthy air days. State data for 2012 also show air in Greeley and Fort Collins north of Denver—near the heart of the fracking boom—exceeding health standards and getting worse.

And if that’s not enough, Rocky Mountain National Park was crowned the smoggiest national park outside of California this year. For the first time in the decade or so that the Park Service has records online. Can’t imagine that’s good for the tourism business, let alone the trees, wildlife and visitors.

It’s true that many industrial activities—and drivers—add to smog. Weather patterns, including the sunny days of summer, can create conditions that cause ozone levels to spike. Protecting public health by reducing smog may take significant commitments and actions across a range of activities.

But greed shouldn’t blind one to reality. With the fracking boom, scores of diesel-spewing drill rigs and fossil-fuel compressor stations are worsening the Front Range’s already unhealthy air.

So yes, fracking boosters, you’re probably already helping keep doctors busy. That’s not something to laugh about.

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