DEP Report On Air Quality Impacts From Marcellus Shale Operations In Southwest

Department of Environmental Protection this week released a report on a five-week air quality study conducted near Marcellus Shale natural gas operations in southwestern Pennsylvania’s Greene and Washington counties.
            “This short-term study only provides a snapshot of the air contaminants we found at surveyed sites, but the data shows no emission levels that would constitute a concern to the health of residents living near these operations," DEP Secretary John Hanger said, noting that the report does not assess the potential cumulative effects from natural gas operations.
            “These results only provide preliminary information about the type of pollutants released to the atmosphere. Drilling activity continues to increase at a rapid pace across the state, so this study provides us with good information as part of our ongoing effort to gauge the impact these operations have on our air quality, public health and the environment. Needless to say, we plan to conduct more of these types of air-sampling exercises moving forward,” Secretary Hanger added.
            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 including carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide near natural gas extraction and processing sites.
            The agency gathered samples to provide background data at its monitoring station in Florence Township, Washington County.
            The air monitoring surveys near natural gas operations were conducted at a wastewater impoundment, tank farm and two compressor stations. Those surveys detected the main constituents of natural gas—including methane, ethane, propane and butane—as well as low levels of associated compounds, including benzene and n-hexane, which were detected infrequently at the tank farm and at a compressor station. Higher concentrations of the main constituents of natural gas were detected mainly near the compressor stations.
            Methyl mercaptan, a gas which has a penetrating and unpleasant odor similar to rotten cabbage or rotten eggs, was also detected at concentrations that generally produce odors at each location where samples were taken. That threshold is about one part per billion.
            The air sampling surveys conducted for carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone precursor emissions did not detect levels above national ambient air quality standards at any of the surveyed sites. However, DEP has not yet determined if the potential cumulative emissions of these air contaminants will cause or contribute to violations of the national ambient air quality standards.
            “Maintaining environmental quality – air, rivers and streams, drinking water – is a shared goal, and a paramount responsibility of ours,” said Kathryn Klaber, president and executive director of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, also a member of DEP’s Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee. “As Marcellus development continues to expand, and more Pennsylvanians realize the limitless economic and energy security benefits associated with this historic opportunity, our industry is determinedly working to put in place procedures and leverage cutting-edge technologies to help meet these critical environmental goals and objectives, particularly as it relates to air quality and all areas of our environmental management.”
            DEP is conducting similar air monitoring studies near Marcellus gas facilities in the Dimock area of Susquehanna County, as well as in the north-central region of the state, to determine if there is a consistent statewide emissions profile for air contaminants near natural gas operations. All studies are expected to be complete in January 2011.
            Since 2005, 2,300 Marcellus Shale wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania.
            A copy of the report is available online.


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