Speculation is at the heart of all shale gas discussions. How much gas could there be? When will it get to us? Where is the price going? Questions abound and the technology is changing so rapidly that many folks are naturally uncertain and fear has made its way into the discussion with all kinds of negative speculation on environmental impacts. Consider these headlines, for example:
Headline: TheTimes-Tribune.com, July 31, 2010
“As Water Worries Mount, Researcher Says Marcellus Shale Poses Risk to Air”
Headline: FracTracker.org, August 24, 2010
“Potential Shale Gas Extraction Air Pollution Impacts”
Headline: Marcellus-Shale.us, November 1, 2010
“Shale Gas Can Pollute the Air, Too”
The air just went of these three speculative trial balloons as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released a report indicating “an air quality study near Marcellus Shale natural gas operations in Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties found no emission levels that would pose a public health concern.”
“The results show there are no emission levels that should be of concern to the health of residents living and working near these operations,” DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said. “They are consistent with the results of our air monitoring in southwest and northeast Pennsylvania, the other two areas of the state with the most Marcellus drilling.”
The report notes that the sampling effort, conducted between August and December 2010, was not meant to address potential cumulative impacts.
DEP’s assessment focused on concentrations of volatile organic compounds, including benzene, toluene and xylene, which are typically found in petroleum products. The department also sampled for other pollutants, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, near natural gas extraction and processing sites.
DEP first conducted background sampling in early August 2010 at the Sones Pond parking lot in Loyalsock State Forest, Sullivan County.
The air quality sampling was conducted the weeks of Aug. 30, Nov. 15 and Dec. 6. An evening sampling event was held Nov. 17. DEP used its mobile laboratories and the equipment was set up downwind of the target sources during early morning and late evening hours.
“This study provides us with additional valuable information as part of our ongoing effort to determine the impact of these operations on air quality, public health and the environment,” Krancer said.
The air monitoring surveys were located next to Talisman Energy’s Thomas Compressor Station in Troy Township, Bradford County; East Energy’s Shaw Compressor Station in Mainesburg Township, Tioga County; East Energy’s Chicken Hawk well south of Mainesburg; and Anadarko Petroleum’s Hagemeyer well in Gamble Township, Lycoming County.
Those surveys detected the main constituents of natural gas—including methane, ethane, propane and butane—as well as low levels of other compounds, such as MtBE, carbon monoxide and methyl mercaptan, the odor-producing compound.
DEP’s sampling did not find concentrations of any compound that is likely to trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities in the northcentral region.
This is the third in a series of Pennsylvania DEP reports (and the second within our region) to reach similar conclusions; that “even though constituents of natural gas and a few other associated target compounds were detected in the northcentral region, the screening results do not indicate a potential for major air-related health issues associated with the Marcellus Shale drilling activities.” More importantly, DEP is planning to “compare results from the surveyed regions to determine if any regional differences exist where wet gas is extracted in the southwest region versus dry gas in the northcentral and northeast regions of the Commonwealth. Following the completion of the comparative analysis, the Department will determine whether additional, longer-term sampling is warranted. The PA DEP will also determine if additional measures will be necessary for the protection of public health and the environment during natural gas development operations in the Commonwealth.”
The DEP report is well worth reviewing because it demonstrates the seriousness with which the Commonwealth approaches the regulation of air quality with respect to natural gas. It not only examines what is happening in Pennsylvania , but also compares the results with Texas studies and national standards. Natural gas development can be done safely and DEP is both proving and ensuring it. As far those headlines, “fuggetaboutit” – the balloon has burst.