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Air Under Assault: Health and Climate Impacts – Shale Gas Outrage News Bulletin #2

August 16, 2012

This is the second in a series of Shale Gas Outrage News Bulletins. The first, Workers at Risk, outlined five critical ways in which the shale gas industry puts workers’ lives at risk. This comprehensive new Clean Air Council analysis examines air quality degradation, public health and climate impacts due to shale gas drilling.


August 16, 2012

Main Contact: Matt Walker, Clean Air Councilmwalker@cleanair.org267-319-6726


Alternate Contacts: Shale Gas Outrage 2012 Communications Committee:

Iris Marie Bloom, Protecting Our Waters:

Tracy Carlucio, Delaware Riverkeeper

Karen Feridun, Berks Gas

Diane Sipe, Marcellus Outreach

Sam Bernhardt, Food & Water

PA DEP Issues High Number of Shale Gas Air Permits: what it could mean for our health and climate

Every stage of shale gas extraction, from drilling and completing wells to running compressor stations, causes air pollution that can potentially impact public health and even accelerate climate change.

“Pennsylvania is approving permits for larger natural gas facilities at an alarming rate,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director of the Clean Air Council, an environmental health organization working on air quality issues since 1967.

“In the last two weeks alone, we’ve seen PA DEP announce that they’re ready to approve air pollution permits for almost twenty compressor stations. This equipment is known and permitted to emit tons of harmful pollutants each year into the air we all must breathe.”

Compressor stations are groupings of enormous engines that pressurize gas through pipelines and emit tons of hazardous air pollutants and ozone-forming chemicals. Over 500 compressor stations have been permitted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) since January 1, 2009, mostly through a streamlined permitting process that does not allow for public input.[1]

“Although the numbers of new well permits are declining, over 10,000 wells have already been permitted in Pennsylvania. They are completely unregulated for air emissions.  Impoundment pits, pipelines, and truck emissions are also unregulated,” said Minott.

Shale Gas Emissions are a Recipe for Smog

Shale gas operations can interfere with a region’s ability to meet national air quality standards and can cause local air quality issues for residents living nearby.

The state of Wyoming, for instance, is very sparsely populated and historically pristine, with no major industry except for natural gas. Ozone levels there were “above the worst day in Los Angeles all last year” and according to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the natural gas industry is the source of this unprecedented air pollution spike.[2]

Any time a fuel burns, pollution is emitted. After drilling a well, gas is typically flared off at the well pad, emitting high concentrations of nitrogen oxides, (NOx) volatile organic compounds, (VOCs) and methane. Whether burning natural gas or diesel, massive engines at compressor stations as well as the diesel engines used to drill, frack, and move massive amounts of water or fluid mixtures around emit many tons of these harmful pollutants each year. The VOCs and NOx from this exhaust “bake” in sunlight to form ground-level ozone, which is the main ingredient of smog.

Public Health Impacts

Bill Ferullo, a resident of Bradford County, with a high concentration of shale gas drilling operations, is concerned about the local and regional air quality and health impacts from natural gas pollution.

“The air quality is very important,” said Ferullo. “The pollution from wells and compressor stations definitely affects my health. When the air quality is bad here, I get headaches and start wheezing.”

Ground-level ozone is particularly dangerous for children, the elderly, and people with preexisting health issues. Ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. This pollutant has been linked with aggravation of asthma, bronchitis & emphysema and increased susceptibility to pneumonia & bronchitis.

These emissions can contain fine particles and carcinogens associated with cancer, stroke and premature death.[3]  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about 36,000 years of life are lost among people over age 65 in the U.S. from exposure to ozone.[4]

Many VOCs are also known carcinogens and have been linked to devastating neurological and developmental issues, brain damage, liver and kidney damage. Formaldehyde, for example, causes skin, eye, nose and throat irritation and cancer.[5]

Janet McIntyre, a resident of Butler County, is experiencing the health effects of nearby natural gas operations first-hand.

McIntyre lives about 1500 feet from 2 gas well pads, within 6/10ths of a mile from another six, and within a few miles from many more. A compressor station is slated to be built even closer.

She has noticed air quality changes and strange health symptoms since the natural gas industry started operating in the area.

“There’s this blue haze that emits over this whole area here. It’s just this blue haze – it’s everywhere.”

“You can’t be outside more than 10 minutes,” McIntyre reports. “You get massive headaches, your eyes are red, your lips become tinny-tasting. I lived here 20 years and never had an issue until they came to town. If it’s hot and you’re outside, it feels like your skin is burning and is going to crawl off – it’s bad.”

In addition to ozone issues, natural gas in the Marcellus Shale has one of the highest concentrations of cancer-causing naturally occurring radioactive materials as compared to other types of shale deposits.[6]

Silica dust is another issue. Silica is used to prop open cracks in the shale deposit and is known to cause silicosis, a type of lung disease. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently identified airborne silica exposure as a health hazard to workers at fracking operations.[7]


Speeds up Climate Change

Methane is 21 (EPA) to 25 (IPCC) times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the 100 year time frame; and methane is 72 to 105 times more powerful in the twenty year time frame. Methane will have a significant impact on climate change in the next two most critical decades. Natural gas is mostly methane.

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) from oil and gas operations include emissions from combustion, venting and leaking. Carbon dioxide and methane are the most prevalent GHGs emitted from oil and gas operations, and the industry is the largest human-made source of methane emissions globally. [8]

Studies estimate that 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaking over the lifetime of a well. [9] Compared to coal, the climate change footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and possibly more than twice as great in the twenty year timeframe. Shale gas climate impacts are about equivalent to coal, or a bit worse, when compared over a 100 year timeframe. [10]  A more recent study determined that methane leakage throughout the natural gas life cycle is even higher than these studies indicate. [11] Scientists estimate that a warmer climate will increase the frequency of days with unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone.[12]

While studies have estimated the amount of methane that is leaked or vented from equipment, there is little to no data on how much is being emitted every day through naturally occurring fault lines that may have been altered by fracking. Clean Air Council recently commissioned Gas Safety Inc, a PA-based company, to measure methane levels in Bradford County near active fracking.

“Two methane plumes were detected,” said Dr. Bryce Payne, environmental scientist and author of the report. The data and observations suggest natural gas has spread through an extensive underground area beyond where the plumes were found.”

“The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently recommended in their Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas Report that drilling companies need to carefully survey the geology of the region to avoid fault lines,” said Payne. “With the already-fractured geology of Pennsylvania and parts of New York, our methane measurements demonstrate that this may prove impossible to do.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new rules for the oil and gas industry this past April, but a lot of the technology standards, which focus on reducing air pollution from flaring, won’t be required until 2015.

“To help curb health and climate impacts, companies should at the very least sign onto the EPA’s Natural Gas Star program right now instead of waiting for the rules to kick in three years down the road. The program provides guidance on best technologies that can greatly reduce air pollution and can actually save companies money over time. It’s a no-brainer,” said Matt Walker, Community Outreach Coordinator for Clean Air Council.

The Shale Gas Outrage organizers will hold a large rally on September 20th, 2012 in Philadelphia outside the Marcellus Shale industry convention. Organizers are committed to stopping fracking, including maintaining and expanding each moratorium and ban already established throughout the Marcellus Shale region. Participants work to protect health, air, water, farms, food, climate, and economic sustainability for our communities, advocating for renewable energy, green jobs and justice.

Shale Gas Outrage Steering Committee members are: Berks Gas TruthClean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Food and Water Watch, Gas Truth of Central PA, Marcellus Outreach Butler, Marcellus Protest. Pennsylvanians for Clean Water and Air, Protecting Our Waters, Responsible Drilling Alliance, United for Action

For full Shale Gas Outrage schedule September 20th-21st, see:

[1] This number was derived by counting all instances of GP-5 issuance in the Pennsylvania Bulletin from January 1, 2009 until July 29th, 2012.

[2] Gruver, M. (2011).Wyoming Air Pollution Worse Than Los Angeles Due To Gas Drilling. Retrieved from:

[3] American Lung Association, “Health Effects of Ozone and Particle Pollution,” State of the Air, 2011; President’s Cancer Panel, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, 2008-2009 Annual Report (National Cancer Institute, May 2010).

[4] Fann, N., Lamson, A., Anenberg, S., Wesson, K., Risley, D. & Hubbell, B. (2012). Estimating the National Public Health Burden Associated with Exposure to Ambient PM2.5 and Ozone. Risk Assessment, 32(1).

[5] Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from:

[6] Marvin Resnikoff, Ph.D., Ekaterina Alexandrova, Jackie Travers. May 19, 2010. Radioactivity in Marcellus Shale. Radioactive Waste Management Associates.

[7] Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)Hazard Alert for Worker Exposure to Silica During Hydraulic Fracturing. Retrieved from:

[8] National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Methane’s Impacts on Climate Change May Be Twice Previous Estimates. Retrieved from

[9] Robert W. Howarth, et al.. Recent air sampling by NOAA over Colorado found 4% methane leakage, more than double industry claims. Petron, G. et al., (2012), Hydrocarbon emissions characterization in the Colorado Front Range – A pilot study, J. Geophys. Res., doi:10.1029/2011JD016360, in press. This estimate does not include additional losses in the pipeline and distribution system. While EPA’s recently released Oil and Gas Air Pollution Standards will address some leaks, many of the most effective technologies will not be required until 2015 and only for new equipment. Oil and Natural Gas Sector: New Source Performance Standards and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants Reviews (Apr. 17, 2012) available at: Additionally, gas capture would only be required for wells where collector pipelines are already in place, which is often not the case when new sites are developed.

[10] Id.

[11] Ramon A. Alvarez, et al., Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure, PNAS 2012, published ahead of print April 9, 2012, doi 10.1073/pnas.1202407109.

[12] CCSP (2008). Analyses of the effects of global change on human health and welfare and human systems . A Report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research. Gamble, J.L. (ed.), K.L. Ebi, F.G. Sussman, T.J. Wilbanks, (Authors). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, USA.


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