Top State Environmental Agencies Report Clean Air, Pristine Waters in Shale Development Areas

Studies released this week from Pennsylvania’s top two environmental regulatory agencies continue to confirm that responsible natural gas development and environmental stewardship go hand-in-hand.

As the Associated Press reported Wednesday, a recent Department of Conservation and Natural Resources report concluded natural gas development in and under state forests has had no impact on the quality of waterways. In fact, according to the report, continuous water quality monitoring of forest streams indicates that they are “pristine surface waters.”

And earlier this week, the Department of Environmental Protection released a long-awaited air quality analysis near sites in Washington County – Pennsylvania’s second largest natural gas producing county – and found that natural gas development poses little public health or air quality risk.

The DEP’s findings “[are] encouraging, in line with other published independent reports, and reflect the industry’s deep commitment to protecting our environment, communities, and public health,” MSC’s Dave Spigelmyer commented.

Below are key takeaways from the air study, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

[The report] found generally better air quality there than at more urban comparison sites in Washington County and similar levels of hazardous air pollutants at a background sampling site at a rural fruit orchard in Adams County, well outside of the Marcellus Shale drilling region.

DEP found that ozone and fine particle pollution levels at the primary shale gas site in the study reflected the broader region’s air quality, while pollutants more indicative of local sources — carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide — were found in low concentrations.

The levels of carcinogenic chemicals detected at the sites — acetaldehyde, benzene, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform and formaldehyde — were generally similar to amounts typically found in the ambient air across the country, the health agencies said.

The added cancer risk from exposure to the measured concentrations of those chemicals across a lifetime “were all very low,” and the exposures were not expected to cause other, non-cancer health effects over a lifetime.


In a weekend editorial, the Times-Tribune touted the latest DCNR report as “good news that the forests and the industry can coexist.” More from the paper’s editorial board:

Pennsylvania’s 2.2 million acres of state-owned forests are among the commonwealth’s most valuable assets, in multiple ways. …

[The DNCR report] indicates that the state government is doing a good job of balancing the various forest values in the era of Marcellus Shale gas development. It has done so by maintaining forest health as the top priority. …

The DCNR has been monitoring the impact of drilling, pipelines and related infrastructure on state forests since 2010 and, so far, the results are encouraging. …

According to the review, the industry has not produced any adverse effects on streams and other bodies of water in the state forests. …

Overall, it’s good news that the forests and the industry can coexist.

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