can pollute the air, too
companies might even profit from preventive measures
November 1, 2010
By Joe Osborne
The Marcellus Shale Coalition says it's committed to
protecting our communities and our environment. Here's how it can prove
Earlier this month, the coalition -- a business
association representing many of the natural gas companies operating in
the Marcellus Shale region -- released a document titled "Guiding
Principles: Our Commitment to the Community." It consists of a list of
promises, including promises to provide safe work sites, operate
transparently, "implement state-of-the-art environmental protection" and
be "responsible members of the communities in which we work."
Drilling opponents and supporters can all agree that if
Marcellus Shale development proceeds, it should happen in a manner that
protects workers, the environment and communities. Another belief we all
share is a healthy skepticism for vaguely worded, feel-good public
relations campaigns like the coalition's "Guiding Principles."
If the coalition's commitment is genuine, and I'd like
very much to think that it is, the coalition can begin to demonstrate
its sincerity by reducing air pollution emissions from Marcellus Shale
We hear a lot about the threat this industry poses to our
water. Though it receives less attention, the threat to our air quality
is just as significant. Compressor engine exhaust, offgassing from
storage tanks and raw natural gas emissions during well completions are
just a few of the many sources of air pollution associated with
The total air pollution created by this industry is
• In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, located in the Barnett
Shale gas play, annual emissions of smog-forming pollutants from the oil
and gas sector exceed emissions from motor vehicles.
• A 2008 analysis by the Colorado Department of Public
Health and Environment concluded that smog-forming emissions from
Colorado's oil and gas operations exceed motor vehicle emissions for the
• Wyoming recently failed to meet federal health-based
standards for air pollution for the first time in the state's history.
According to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, emissions
from the state's growing oil and gas sector are to blame.
Natural-gas operations in the Marcellus Shale are
expanding at a breakneck pace. Texas, Wyoming and Colorado offer a
preview of what's to come if we don't address this problem now.
Fortunately, effective control technologies exist to
reduce air pollution from natural-gas operations. Better yet, because
most of them reduce emissions by increasing the amount of methane and
other hydrocarbons that are captured rather than entering the
atmosphere, they are not just cheap, they actually can pay for
themselves in short order -- often a year or less.
Utilizing these technologies makes so much sense from
both an environmental and economic standpoint that the federal
Environmental Protection Agency has partnered with industry to create
the Natural Gas STAR program, which promotes voluntary adoption of these
cost-effective pollution-control technologies.
While several of the Marcellus Shale Coalition members
are members of the Gas STAR program, most aren't. If the Marcellus Shale
Coalition wants to show its "Guiding Principles" are more than just
words, it should require coalition members to participate in Gas STAR.
Every year, program participants must document their emission reduction
activities in a report to the EPA.
Consistent with the coalition's commitment to operate
transparently, the coalition could make these annual reports available
to the public. This would allow Pennsylvanians to draw their own
conclusions about whether the industry is minimizing its impact on human
health and the environment and generally living up to its "Guiding
These recommendations would dramatically reduce air
pollution while increasing industry profits. If the
Marcellus Shale Coalition members implement them, we'd give them due
credit and recognition. If they don't, how could the public expect this
industry to live up to the coalition's "Guiding Principles" when what's
good for the industry's bottom line and what's good for the rest of us
don't match up so conveniently?
Joe Osborne is legal director of the Group Against Smog and