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Friday, April 4, 2014

On air pollution from natgas development, we don't know enough - but we know enough to act

A new study conducted by the SouthwestPennsylvania Environmental Health Project has found that, when it comes to local emissions of air pollutants from natgas development, while overall air emissions are measureddangerous spikes in toxic pollution are rarely monitored.

Understanding exposure from natural gas drilling puts current air standards to the test was published in the peer-reviewed journal Reviews on Environmental Health.
According to this report on the study:
The most commonly used air monitoring techniques often underestimate public health threats because they don't catch toxic emissions that spike at various points during gas production.

What’s the solution?
…the study underscores the need for specialized monitoring programs that target community health.
But it’s easier said than done.
…creating these programs is difficult…because scientists don't fully understand the emissions coming from natural gas facilities. Air pollutants ebb and flow based on equipment malfunctions, maintenance activities and the weather. They're released from storage tanks, compressor stations and pipelines during every step of the process: drilling, hydraulic fracturing, production and processing.
…natural gas facilities have sporadic emission spikes that last just a few hours or minutes. These fleeting events, which release particulate matter, volatile organic compounds and other harmful toxins into the air, can quickly lead to localized health effects. When averaged over 24 hours, however, the spikes can easily be ignored.
Ideally, scientists should use a combination of methods to monitor long-term and acute impacts..."but there are technology and cost issues."
This study is just the latest illustrating how little we know about the health impacts of unconventional natural gas. But what we do know is that air pollution from natgas development is dangerous.   Researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration have found:
…levels of volatile organic compounds released from oil and gas wells in Utah’s Uintah Basin that are 10 to 100 times as great as concentrations in major U.S. cities…The pollutants include benzene, a carcinogen, and compounds that are precursors of ozone, which can cause respiratory problems.

It’s possible – and frankly long overdue - to respond to this conundrum of imperfect information.  An excellent start is a requirement for closed-loop, closed container storage of all fracking fluids and a requirement that drillers employ best available control technology on all equipment.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Truly essential reading

Don Gilliland of the Harrisburg Patriot-News has written a superb series of four articles about the December 2013 Pennsylvania Supreme court ruling that overturned the Act 13 drilling law and breathed life - for the first time - into the Environmental Rights Amendment of Pennsylvania's state Constitution.

The articles are essential reading for anyone wanting to understand Pennsylvania's dubious environmental history, the current state of Marcellus Shale regulation - and most importantly, the history and perhaps the future of environmental rights that have chiefly been observed only in the breach in the Keystone State.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

New RFF report asks the right questions on natgas

Resources for the Future has released a new report detailing a list of critical research questions about natural gas production, distribution, and use, and the place of natgas in a sustainable energy future.

It is time to take stock of what is known, what is uncertain, and what is unknown about the economic and environmental consequences of the natural gas revolution.
The report presents 24 “critical questions” that fall into seven categories related to the
production and consumption of natural gas:
  1. supply;
  2. demand;
  3. economic impacts;
  4. environmental (and public health) impacts;
  5. climate interactions and impacts;
  6. regulation and other approaches to reduce risks; and
  7. international implications.
The report is a must-read for researchers and policymakers. The report asks the right questions.  When will they be answered?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Weekend earthquake swarm in OK

The US state of Oklahoma experienced a swarm of at least 41 earthquakes over this past weekend - 29 of them on Sunday, March 30, including the strongest quakes of 2014. To say nothing of over 135 earthquakes that the Sooner State has experienced in the past month. 

Interstate consultations on fracking's earthquake risks are clearly not enough.  Will this weekend's events propel immediate state and federal regulations on wastewater injection and earthquake risk? And perhaps on the risks of earthquakes that are related to fracking itself?

And if not - why not?