Happenings

‘Big Oil, Bad Air': 50 Years After the Clean Air Act, Pollution Problems Persist

Panelists at the Knight-Risser Prize Symposium on Feb .17. From left to right, Madeline Stano, Susan White, Jim Morris and the moderator, Sasha Khokha. (Photo: Steve Castillo)

Last week, the Center and the JSK Journalism Fellowships hosted a bracing public conversation about air quality problems in western communities touched by oil and gas production. The 2016 Knight-Risser Prize Symposium at Stanford brought together the winners of the 2015 prize, Jim Morris and Susan White (of the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News, respectively), with a panel that was moderated by KQED Radio's Sasha Khokha and included the environmental lawyers Madeline Stano and Danny Cullenward, a graduate of Stanford's Emmet Interdisciplinary Program on the Environment.

Following is a recap of the event, which continues on the Knight-Risser Prize website and includes the full video of the event.


Trouble breathing, recurring nosebleeds, nausea, headaches. These are the common complaints of adults and children in California, Texas and other states who live near active oil wells and natural gas fracking sites.

But it’s a hard to prove a link. Toxics monitoring is slim to none in some of these areas. Scientists can do little with only anecdotal information. Regulators are often reluctant to pressure the industry, and there is little political will – local to state – to remedy the situation.

That’s the conclusion of an environmental attorney, an energy economist and two longtime environmental journalists who discussed the legacy of the 1963 Clean Air Act at the Knight-Risser Prize Symposium at Stanford.

The symposium honors the winner of the Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism. This year it was “Big Oil, Bad Air,” a joint reporting project by the Center for Public Integrity, InsideClimate Newsand The Weather Channel. The 18-month project focused on the impact on air quality in one of the most active oil and gas fields in the United States, the Eagle Ford Shale of south Texas.

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