Comprehensive Air Quality Analysis Finds No Health Impacts Tied to Shale Development

Results from a two-year air quality study of a natural gas well site in southwest Pennsylvania determined that safe, responsible natural gas development does not pose a threat to public health.

The analysis, completed by Gradient, a Boston-based environmental and risk sciences consulting firm, found that unconventional natural gas operations near Ft. Cherry School District in Washington County – the second largest producing county in the Pennsylvania – “do not pose any acute or chronic health concerns” and that the data “showed no air quality impacts of potential health concern.”

To conduct the study, three site monitors collected data between December 2016 and October 2018 near a well site in Mt. Pleasant. Measurements were taken during all phases of development and production of natural gas and natural gas liquids. The study was conducted for Range Resources as part of a promise the company made to the community.

“For years, we have received questions about the air quality around our operations, and we monitored a well site near a school campus to be transparent and responsive to students, parents, and those in the community,” Range said in a statement. “This comprehensive data with third-party expert analysis aligns with other reports conducted by regulatory agencies and the school district, that all determined natural gas development does not pose any chronic or acute health concerns.”

According to the Pittsburgh Business Times, “One independent environmental scientist who had reviewed a copy of the study, Bill Rish, principal engineer of Asheville, North Carolina-based ToxStrategies Inc., said it was a well-designed study that follows guidance from regulators. ‘It demonstrates clearly that the well they studied, Yonker, does not contribute any kind of significant health risk to the school they were looking at,’ Rish said.”

Key takeaways from the report include:

  • This air quality and public health evaluation showed that measured PM2.5 and VOC concentrations were consistently below health-based air comparison values and do not pose acute or chronic health concerns.
  • The data for the air monitoring sites located between the Yonker well site and the Fort Cherry School District campus showed no air quality impacts of potential health concern at the campus associated with Yonker well site.
  • The measured PM2.5 and VOC concentrations do not provide evidence of elevated long-term average concentrations in comparison to other DEP regional data in Washington County that are further from natural gas development.

Gradient’s analysis is in line with conclusions from several air quality studies. Last year, the Department of Environmental Protection released a long-awaited air quality analysis near sites in Washington County and found that natural gas development poses little public health or air quality risk. Further, a previous analysis of air quality near the Ft. Cherry school district concluded emissions of VOCs and PM2.5 are well below protective levels.

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