Marcellus Operations: No Negative Air Quality Impact? New Report Might Be Saying Just That

Marcellus Operations: No Negative Air Quality Impact? New Report Might Be Saying Just That

A recent report by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) suggests that air quality in the Marcellus region has improved despite increased gas production over recent years. PADEP has posted the final report of their ambient air monitoring study conducted over an 18-month period in Washington County, PA that sought to understand the local and regional air quality impact of the shale gas activities. The study monitored concentrations of air pollutants in Washington County near Marcellus Shale gas operations. 

The study period spanned from July 2012 through December 2013 and included air quality and meteorological data collection at each study site. The study’s primary site, ”Meddings Road” (located approximately 2 miles northwest of Houston, PA), was equipped with instruments to monitor 65 Hazardous Air pollutants (HAPs), ozone, nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter with aerodynamic size of 2.5 micrometer or less (PM2.5), methane, total non-methane hydrocarbons, hydrogen sulfide (H2S), wind speed and direction, and temperature. Three other sites were also established to monitor just HAPs and meteorological data.

The data and overall results, as documented in the final report, show that during the entire monitoring period:

  • there were no exceedances or indications of future concerns over compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards of the pollutants monitored,
  • the study area (which included impacts from Marcellus operations) reported better air quality than locations outside the study area, and
  • the study area (which included impacts from Marcellus operations) had essentially the same health hazard risk as a site with no oil & gas activity.

These are encouraging results and should help alleviate concerns of local residents, regulators, and operators. These results aren’t unique, however; they are consistent with other studies indicative of the low emissions associated with Marcellus operations. Although the study’s objective and design were to locate the monitoring equipment directly downwind and in the expected impact area of the Marcellus operational emissions, there was essentially no discernable impact on the local air quality. In addition, the air quality in the study area was typical of rural areas where there are no contributions from oil and gas operations, showing better air quality than the populated and heavier traffic areas of nearby towns.

Although this study only provides a snapshot of air quality in 2012-2013, it can help us uncover the air quality trend in the Marcellus region, relative to production activities over a longer timeframe. The figures below illustrate measured air quality data (as daily maximum 1-hour nitrogen dioxide concentration) at the Meddings Road site through 2017 relative to the reported total production of gas in the Appalachia region. Air quality has improved (concentrations drop) from 2012 to 2017. Meanwhile, gas production has increased from about 10 billion cubic feet per day to almost 30 billion cubic feet per day in the region. The second figure illustrates the air quality at the nearby Charleroi monitor from 2008 to 2017. Like the Meddings Road site, air quality has improved, despite the dramatic increase in gas production.

 Source: US EPA Airs Data; US EIA Drilling Productivity Report, August 2018

Other pollutants monitored in the area (for example ozone, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide), show similar trends in improving air quality over recent years, signaling that Marcellus gas exploration and production activities have not interfered with the air quality improvements nationally or in the region. 

PADEP has recently enacted new regulatory requirements aimed at further controlling and reducing emissions from oil and gas exploration and production activities in the Marcellus shale play. Ohio and West Virginia also have regulatory requirements in place to minimize emissions in the region. These efforts combined with voluntary efforts from operators to control and minimize emissions from all operations will further contribute to the continued improvement of air quality in the region.

Woodard & Curran staff are actively helping clients operating in the Marcellus/Utica basin implement the applicable regulations and assist in their continued efforts to minimize emissions and impact on air and water quality. We would welcome the opportunity to assist with any similar planning, strategic or compliance needs that you may have.

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National Practice Leader
Air Services

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