Mansfield Air Study Shows Gas Drilling is Protective of Public Health

A newly-released study shows that natural gas development does not produce harmful levels of air emissions, countering a frequent claim from anti-fracking groups that drilling has a negative impact on public health.

The study, conducted by Modern Geosciences and released today by the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council (BSEEC), looked at five Barnett Shale gas wells in Mansfield, Tex., during both hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and flowback activities. The report measured volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other emissions, and concluded that “none of the observed VOCs were noted above the comparison criteria,” a reference to scientifically-established public health thresholds. Emissions that fall below those thresholds, such as those measured in this latest study, are not considered a public health threat.

The study corroborates a peer-reviewed study of air emissions across the Barnett Shale, released last year, which concluded that “shale gas activities have not resulted in VOC levels that pose a health concern.” An earlier air quality study of two compressor stations and eight active wells in Tarrant County, which were estimated to have some of the highest emissions, found that the sites were not emitting harmful levels of benzene or other compounds.

Notably, the Mansfield study found a number of VOCs during its baseline tests, taken in the city before the wells had ever been drilled. Modern Geosciences noted that these emissions “can be found in the urban environment due to both natural and anthropogenic contributions.”

The release of the study comes as the City of Mansfield is considering revisions to its drilling ordinance, with the first hearing scheduled for Monday, February 23. Local activist groups are lobbying the city to adopt larger setbacks, much like they have done in other North Texas cities to prevent new drilling. Energy In Depth previously covered how anti-fracking groups are using setbacks as a means of banning oil and gas development.

Mansfield currently requires a 600-foot setback, which research has shown to be more than protective of public health in the City of Fort Worth, where approximately 2,000 gas wells are located. The highest measured VOC emissions in the new Mansfield air study were located within 600 feet of the well pad site, although none of the emissions were above adverse health effects levels. The findings suggest that the city’s existing setback requirement is more than adequate to protect public health.


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