Appalachian Basin

New Study Finds Low Emissions at Marcellus Well Sites

A new study led by researchers at Drexel University has found low levels of air emissions at well sites in the Marcellus Shale. From the study:

“Most notably, we did not observe elevated levels of any of the light aromatic compounds (benzene, toluene, etc.) that have previously been observed in oil and NG operations. With the exception of CH43OH, which was observed at one compressor station and has been observed at NG well pads, all of the other VOCs detected have been attributed to on-road engine exhaust.” (Page E; emphasis added)

The study also explains:

“Additionally we have shown that in contrast to other unconventional NG resources there are few emissions of nonalkane VOCs (as measured by PTR-MS) from Marcellus Shale development.” (Page H; emphasis added)

As Peter DeCarlo, the lead researcher and an assistant professor at Drexel University said, “we didn’t see a lot of the air quality pollutants that we expected.”

To conduct the study, the researchers took real-time measurements in August of 2012 in Bradford and Sullivan counties and in September of 2012 in several counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The two locations allowed them to have comparisons between typically dry gas shale in Northeastern Pa. and wet gas—or gas that that contains hydrocarbons such as butane, ethane, etc.—in the Southwestern part of the state.

And while the authors acknowledge in the study that “the sample size of this study is too small to make statistical conclusions about different emission source types,” it does add to a growing body of research showing lower emissions levels in shale plays even as oil and gas production has increased.

This latest study also supports recent data out of the Marcellus. Just last month the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released its annual natural gas air emissions inventory that found total aggregate emissions to be down despite significant increases in the types and number of facilities reporting for the inventory and increased production. As Dave Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said in a recent article:

“The sharp decline in methane emissions, despite increased activity, is particularly encouraging and reinforces the fact that our strong state-based regulations and innovative technologies are delivering meaningful environmental results.”

Each new study that comes out shows the industry’s continued efforts to decrease emissions while developing our domestic resources. And that’s great news for residents living near natural gas development.


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