Appalachian Basin

University of Maryland Report Ignores Significant Pollution Reduction in Shale States

A new study conducted by the University of Maryland attempts to link an increase in ethane emissions in the Baltimore/Washington areas to shale development taking place in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Despite improving air quality in states embracing shale development, the University of Maryland study claims:

“Using hourly measurements from Photochemical Assessment Monitoring Stations (PAMS) in the Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC areas, we observed that following a period of decline, daytime ethane concentrations have increased significantly since 2010, growing from ∼7% of total measured nonmethane organic carbon to ∼15% in 2013. This trend appears to be linked with the rapidly increasing natural gas production in upwind, neighboring states, especially Pennsylvania and West Virginia.” (Pg. 144)

Sheryl H. Ehrman, co-author of the paper asked, “If we’re seeing the ethane what else might we be seeing?”

But if the researchers had actually tested for other emissions, they would not have found the results they were implying.  Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently released data from its 2013 air emissions inventory of the natural gas industry, which shows methane emissions continuing to decrease across the Commonwealth, all while natural gas production in the state has skyrocketed. And, this isn’t a trend we’re just seeing in Pennsylvania. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) methane emissions from natural gas production have fallen 38 percent across the country since 2005.

The DEP Secretary also commented on Pennsylvania emissions reductions, stating:

“It is important to note that across-the-board emission reductions … can be attributed to the steady rise in the production and development of natural gas, the greater use of natural gas, lower allowable emissions limits, installation of control technology and the deactivation of certain sources.” (Emphasis added)

In a similar report, The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection also found that emissions from shale development sites were protective of human health stating:

“Based on a review of completed air studies to date, including the results from the well pad development monitoring conducted in West Virginia’s Brooke, Marion, and Wetzel Counties, no additional legislative rules establishing special requirements need to be promulgated at this time.  As evident by the many air studies underway, these initiatives will result in more complete information over time. Once available, this data will help advance and guide future rule development. In the meantime, the existing regulatory framework provides a basis for implementation of requirements to minimize and mitigate human health and environmental impacts.” (Pg. 9)

Further, the most recent Clean Air Progress Report from the Maryland Department of the Environment states:

For the first time in more than three decades, the metropolitan Baltimore area is meeting the health-based federal standard for ground-level ozone air pollution, a new report by the Maryland Department of the Environment states.”

So while ethane was supposed to be the canary in the coal mine for Maryland, in reality, the state’s air is not only improving, it’s the best it’s been in three decades. The clean air progress report also goes on to state that Maryland has had no Code Red air quality days for ozone in either of the past two summers and that the state is currently meeting the federal standard for fine particle, soot and pollution across the state.

As the natural gas industry continues to implement state of the art technology for emissions control, state regulators are seeing air quality improve in states that are developing their resources. And because of increased natural gas, neighboring states like New York, New Jersey and Maryland have also been able to improve their air quality.  That’s great news for everyone involved.

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