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Our look at

Pennsylvania air quality from gas production
Source: Pennsylvania DEP

FLIR videos
of Compressor Station emissions
Source: Earthworks

California compressor stations - 14 videos
Colorado compressor stations - 45 videos
New Mexico compressor stations - 13 videos
New York compressor stations - 2 videos
Ohio compressor stations - 8 videos
Pennsylvania compressor stations - 7 videos
Texas compressor stations - 43 videos




State studies on shale-site air emissions incomplete, according to court documents

By Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
October 20, 2014

Three widely cited state studies of air emissions at Marcellus Shale gas development sites in Pennsylvania omit measurements of key air toxics and calculate the health risks of just two of more than two dozen pollutants. State regulators and the shale gas drilling industry over the past four years have repeatedly used the regional studies to support their positions that air emissions from drilling, fracking wastewater impoundments and compressor stations don’t pose a public health risk.

The revelations about the shortcomings of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s short-term air sampling reports are contained in sworn depositions by two DEP air program employees who worked on them. “The DEP’s willingness to allow Pennsylvania’s citizens to continue to rely upon what it knows to be an inaccurate air study is unacceptable and completely contrary to the department’s obligations to the public,” said John Smith. Not only did the DEP not calculate the vast majority of chemical hazards, but its determination that public health would not be harmed was not made by anyone with training in medicine, toxicology or environmental or occupational health.

How's the Weather? Environmental Health Project on Air Exposure from Fracking from Southwest Pennsylvania EHP on Vimeo.


Click image for more information


2011 Unconventional Natural Gas Emission Inventory in Pennsylvania



Air quality alerts issued across broad swath of Pa.

December 4, 2013 - Stagnant weather patterns in recent days have caused high air pollution levels in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania and nearly all of the eastern half of the state, prompting health concerns. "Action day" alerts are based on a daily measurement of ground-level ozone, airborne particles, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Mr. Shirk said the late-in-the-year high pollutant levels are rare but not unprecedented. Action days in the orange zone due to airborne particulates occurred Dec. 1, 2012, Oct. 25, 2012, and Nov. 13 & 14, 2010, in southeastern Allegheny County.

Mon River Valley air pollution

"We had a very strong inversion in the Mon Valley Wednesday morning and that caused the reading in the red zone," said Mr. Thompson, the Allegheny County Health Department's deputy director of environmental health. "It is an issue and it shows we still have some work to do on air quality." Thompson said that Allegheny County often has stagnant weather conditions in November and December when warmer fronts can cause air inversions in the region's river valleys and air pollutant levels can build.

Complete story

Pittsburgh region’s air quality ranked subpar; 6th worst in nation

April 25, 2012 - Air quality in southwestern Pennsylvania is improving significantly, but not as fast as it is in many other parts of the nation, according to the latest American Lung Association annual report.

The Lung Association's State of the Air 2012 report, released this morning, again ranks the eight-county Pittsburgh-New Castle metropolitan area among the 25 most polluted regions in the U.S. for ozone and fine airborne particle pollution.

Complete story

New EPA Rule Targets Air Pollution
at Fracking Sites

April 18, 2012 - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued regulations that for the first time will curtail air pollution from natural gas wells that use a controversial production technique known as fracking.

The regulations will limit emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC's) which react with sunlight to create smog. The rules also will curb carcinogens and methane, the main component of natural gas and a potent contributor to climate change.

The rules are expected to affect about 11,000 new wells annually that undergo fracking and an additional 1,200 that are re-fracked to boost production. The rules go into effect in 60 days, but the EPA gave the industry a 3-year transition period to install technology to capture methane.

Complete story



Top 10 worst states for toxic air pollution

July 20, 2011 - A new analysis of Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Physicians for Social Responsibility has revealed the Top 10 worst states for toxic air pollution.

1. Ohio 2. Pennsylvania 3. Florida
4. Kentucky 5. Maryland 6. Indiana
7. Michigan 8. West Virginia 9. Georgia
10. North Carolina

Beyond all the other environmental issues involved with horizontal gas wells on Marcellus Shale, such as water pollution from fracking and air pollution from heavy truck traffic, remain the serious air quality issues related to compressor stations and fugitive emissions.

FLIR video of the toxic emissions from this compressor station

Compressor station for Marcellus Shale gas production.
Compressor stations like this one often begin with one or two 1,340 HP compressors and then add more compressors later. The Lowry Compressor station in the photo has grown to housing five compressors. Some compressor stations permitted in Washington County Pa in 2012 have over 15,000 HP

Once gas wells are producing, next come the gas lines, and compressor stations to move the gas. Whether its the adverse effects of one compressor station, or the cumulative effects of many, the town of Dish, Texas has become the poster child for these air quality issues.

One university expert, Al Armendariz, whose SMU study was backed by Texas state officials, has indicated that air pollution created by Barnett Shale gas drilling and production in Texas is equivalent to all the air pollution created by vehicular traffic in the Dallas-Ft Worth metroplex. Similar reports out of Colorado have shown a link between gas production activities and haze. Health issues follow.

12-unit compressor station construction in West Virginia in 2010

The air quality issue in Dish became severe enough that the town commissioned a thorough study of local air quality. Below is an open letter from the Mayor of Dish Texas which lays out a warning to those communities not yet affected by multiple compressor stations moving Marcellus Shale gas.

Some people living close to Marcellus Shale drilling, gas processing facilities and wastewater pits have had serious health issues from contaminants in their air and/or water. Things like
benzene, toluene and arsenic have turned up in blood and/or urine samples. Pets and livestock have died from ethyl glycol poisoning.

If you and your children live near Marcellus activities and are exhibiting any of the symptoms indicated below, you should have the tests performed that are listed below. (Note: This lab information is specific to the Washington, Pa area)


(LEL = Lower Explosive Limit)
Graph above:
LEL spikes during fracking
March 22, 2011 - March 26, 2011
~1,600 feet from Drugmand well pad

Drugmand Unit production decline

More about this air monitoring:

The device used to monitor the air near the Drugmand site was a portable chemical detector. In addition to measuring Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), it detects Hydrogen Sulfide (a toxic gas), combustible gases (LEL), oxygen displacement / enrichment, and carbon dioxide. LEL stands for Lower Explosive Limit. These are the spikes you see on the graphs from the air monitoring at the Backus residence, which is about 1,600 feet from the Drugmand frac activities.  The readings tell you what percentage of the air is flammable by actually burning it as it draws air through the monitor. Unfortunately, this monitor does not tell you what type of combustible gas it is, pure methane or perhaps, in our area of wet gas, a methane/heavy hydrocarbon blend.  If it were pure methane in the atmosphere, when the concentration reaches 5.1%, an explosion can occur if there is an ignition source. Other gases have different explosive levels.

The reason this data is so alarming is that the levels of combustible gas(es) exceeded 5.1% in the ambient air on the back patio of an occupied residence.  If there had been an ignition source, the conditions were right for an explosion (like what happened at the Chesapeake well site in Avella, Pa which then ignited the condensate trailers and the Atlas Energy well site in Hopewell Township that ignited the frac pit). Some would like us to believe that the public would not likely be exposed to conditions such as these and that well sites are placed at an adequate distance from homes, schools, and other dwellings. This data indicates otherwise. The location of the Drugmand well pad from the Backus home is about 1,600 feet, well over the 200 feet specified in the PA Oil & Gas Act. 

Typically, LEL monitors are used by workers in enclosed spaces or as entry pre-screening. The action would be to evacuate and ventilate when LEL levels exceed 5%. It's unheard of to have levels like this in the ambient air.

Graph above:
LEL spikes during fracking
April 14, 2011 - April 16, 2011
~1,600 feet from Drugmand well pad
Fracking wells at the Best Unit in Buffalo, Pa
Marcellus Shale gas compressor station
Compressor station used to move Marcellus gas

Shale gas can pollute the air, too
But Marcellus 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 it.

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 operations.

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 natural-gas production.

The total air pollution created by this industry is astounding:

• 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 entire state.

• 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 Principles."

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 Pollution (

Health Issues Follow Natural Gas Drilling in Texas

The New York DEC reports that an average of 29,000 gallons of diesel fuel was required to complete fracturing jobs in the Marcellus Shale.

Pennsylvania Report Card on air quality by county
(American Lung Association - Off site)

Lowry Compressor Station

Texas Compressor Station emissions with FLIR camera   [2]

Emissions from Natural Gas Production in the Barnett Shale
Area and Opportunities for Cost-Effective Improvements
Al Armendariz, Ph.D. - January 2009 (PDF)

Chemicals in Natural Gas Operations


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