Study: Air around natural gas sites potentially harmful
Workers fix a valve on a natural gas well in South Montrose, Pennsylvania.
March 27th, 2012
03:31 PM ET

Study: Air around natural gas sites potentially harmful

When people talk about natural gas fracking and pollution, they most often are referring to the water issues sometimes associated with the wells.

But a new study suggests that air pollution should be an important part of the conversation also.

“In the development of natural gas, air should also be considered,” Lisa McKenzie, lead author of the study and research associate at the Colorado School of Public Health, said. "People living near the well are potentially at risk for health effects."

The study found potentially dangerous hydrocarbons in the air near wells in western Garfield County, Colorado. They included benzene, which the Centers for Disease Control says can damage the immune system and the Environmental Protection Agency says can cause cancer.

During hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short, drillers pump large amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals into the shale formation thousands of feet underground under high pressure. Fracturing the shale around the gas well allows the natural gas to flow freely.

Explain It to Me: Fracking

The study looked at the emissions from several hundred wells. There was one ambient measuring station collecting samples for three years near thousands of established wells. There were also samples taken from the well pads of five wells being completed.

“Those samples were where the concentrations of many of the hydrocarbons were significantly statistically higher,” she said.

The report said people living within a half-mile of the wells were subject to five times the EPA’s Hazard Index. The agency is currently considering air pollution standards for natural gas wells and has delayed its decision three times. April 3 is the next due date.

There have been other studies done to measure air pollution, McKenzie said but this one differed in the class of chemicals it studied.

Energy in Depth, an advocate for oil and natural gas, said the study was “unquestionably flawed.”
On its website, the group lists eight problems it has with the study, including “failed to account/control other variables.”

The compounds are released into the air during the drilling process, but some are also associated with the large amounts of diesel trucks and generators that are used by the drillers, McKenzie said.

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soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. mikstov33

    Does Newt Gingrichs' mouth qualify as a fracking source? I don't think the air that comes out of that piehold even qualifies as "natural". Gas,yes........

    April 11, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
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    April 2, 2012 at 7:24 am |
  3. Shocking, simply fracking shocking...

    "Is air near 'fracking' sites... "

    Wash your mouth out with soap, anyway! Now, go stand in the corner until you learn to keep a civil tongue in your mouth.

    March 28, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  4. Tom

    The caption of the picture attached to this article reads: " Workers fix a valve on a natural gas well in South Montrose, Pennsylvania." They're just making stuff up.

    Workers are installing a WKM pipeline ball valve assembly to a pipeline. The assembly to the right is another ball valve with a Yale Figure 500 vertical closure sitting on top. This picture has nothing to do with a natural gas well and this valve is not being "Fixed." How much other information, coming from people that don't have any idea of the basic process of drilling and completing a well, are you going to believe.

    Drillers don't frac wells, oil companies contract service companies to frac their wells. There is no benzene in frac fluid.

    March 28, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Yossarian

      Benzene is mixed with the gas that the frackers are trying to get, and some is emitted during the process. Saying it isn't in the frac fluid doesn't mean it can't be in the air because of fracking.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
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    well spoken.

    March 28, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  6. Greg

    "They included benzene, which the Centers for Disease Control says can damage the immune system and the Environmental Protection Agency says can cause cancer". Know to me if it causes cancer wouldn't the CDC have said that also instead of the EPA

    March 28, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  7. Aubrie

    EVERYTHING about fracking is harmful.... air, ground water, earthquakes, damage to local buildings, stress on small town infrastructures, the local roads torn up by the huge trucks, crane and rigging truck accidents on the highways caused by fly by night, "make a quick buck" trucking companies. It disgusts me the extent of the blind eye of greed.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  8. John

    The oil and natural gas companies will ruin America's evironment for their own profits that benefit a few. Our great grand children will spit on our graves and curse our generation for it.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • easy

      Our great grandchildren will curse us if we continue to depend for others for energy and leave them a bankrupt nation.

      March 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
      • Common Sense

        There are lots of other green energy alternatives that our grandchildren will thank us for. We should be focusing on these alternatives, the ones that cut down our dependency on oil and will even cut down our demand for domestic oil, instead of continuing to destroy our planet. Our great grandchildren will not like the pollution, earthquakes, and bad water they get from fracking.

        March 28, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  9. That's What's Up

    I prefer Frick and Frack

    March 28, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  10. JA

    yeah.....oil refineries pollute the air also, at least they wont cause earthquakes. It sucks that with "better" energy sources, comes more danger.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  11. Marc

    This Colorado study only confirms what those of us who have studied this issue for several years have long known. Environmental scientist Dr. Wilma Subra, who has researched health effects from air pollution around oil and gas fields for over 30 years, states that toxicity levels far above safe human exposure levels can be detected 2 miles or more from a drilling site. Dr. Theo Colborn of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange has researched and reported on the damage done to mental, emotional and psychological characteristics of the human brain, male reproductive systems, physical and mental childhood development, respiratory illnesses, heart damage and a host of other problems, not the least of which is increased cancer occurrences found among people living in or close to areas where hydrocarbon extraction is taking place.

    For proof of these effects just look at those who have been around the oil fields and gaslands, and who are defending the practice of hydraulic fracturing. Obviously, some serious brain damage took place that caused them to deny their own ailments and defend a practice that is killing them and their children.

    March 28, 2012 at 1:21 am |
    • Kevin

      Your post starts off great, but then you totally invalidate your opinion by being insulting. The people that live on or around the gas land especially the shale on the east coast are making a ton of money, they're not dumb and ignorant. Which would you chose? make hundreds of thousands in royalties every year or scrape by on what you can earn from your farm or your job in the coal mine. Both farming and coal mining are pretty dangerous jobs that come with cancer risk and potential death by other means, I can easily see how they would advocate for fracking.

      March 28, 2012 at 7:50 am |
      • Halliburton loophole

        Me: here's a bunch of money, if you take it you'll likely end up with pancreatic and liver cancer, brain tumors or lung disease, and birth defects.

        you: yeah! i can get an iPhone!

        March 28, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
      • Kevin

        ah yes, another person who thinks they make a valid argument by being insulting... If you take the time to read the article above it clearly states that the air poses a potential risk. both the word potential and risk have underlying maybe's within them so your interpretation of 'likely' oversteps the research. Your comment then leads me to make a few assumptions about you which include that you have money that you've never had to work overly hard for, and that you don't understand science or how to interpret science literature. Thanks for playing, but you fail.

        March 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  12. Elizabeth

    The study was done in Colorado, but there is fracking in many states. There have been earthquakes associated with fracking too. I have friends that live in Youngstown, Ohio, where some of the worst earthquake damage occurred. These people have a right to know what is going on and what chemicals are being used; it is below their homes. They should be the sole owners of their own property.

    March 27, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • Tr1Xen

      The worst part about it is that if your home does happen to sustain damage, you're pretty much screwed. Most homeowner's policies exclude earth movement from covered perils. On the liability side, earth movement claims are very difficult to prove, and the burden of such proof lies with the plaintiff, not the defendant. Even with an engineer's report, which can cost upwards of $6,000 (at the homeowner's personal expense) to obtain, the proximate cause of earth movement is usually indeterminable.

      Source: I'm a homeowner's adjuster and former commercial liability adjuster. I have handled both of these types of claims in the past, and I've never paid one of them.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:51 am |
      • Hadenuffyet

        Atypical insurance industry mantra...

        March 28, 2012 at 10:42 am |

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