Thursday, May 26, 2011

Frackin's OK - as long as you don't breathe

fracking near home in Dimock, PA
If you visit Marcellus Drilling
You will find it very thrilling,
Just two things of which you must beware:
Don't drink the water and don't breathe the air!

My apologies to  Tom Leher, who scribbled much better lyrics for “Pollution” - but the tune keeps running around in my head. Especially today as the PA Department of Environmental Protection begins reconsidering some air quality exemptions. In response to requests from the Marcellus Shale gas industry, the DEP has proposed re-opening or rescinding three technical guidance documents that limit air pollution.

Go to Bradford County’s gas information page and you’ll see an animated map of natural gas development since 2009. Estimates peg the number of Marcellus wells that will be drilled in PA in the tens of thousands. Each well by itself may not be a major source of air pollution, but combined they can have a significant impact on the air we breathe.

Fracking hear home in Dimock, PA
And that is the problem – that air quality standards don’t take cumulative impacts into account. Not in PA. Not in NY. Heck, here in NY the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) won’t even consider air quality as an issue when developing regs for high-volume horizontal slickwater hydro-fracking.

PA residents need to get their comments in today regarding air quality concerns. Send comments to Virendra Trivedi, Environmental Engineer Manager by email to

Today, members of the Assembly committees on Environmental Conservation and Health are holding a public hearing to listen to testimony on health concerns regarding fracking. NY residents may submit written comments ASAP by email to Michael Szydlo at:

When we think about fracking problems we think about spills, blowouts, methane migration and chemicals leaching into drinking water. Fracking chemicals pollute the air, too. One of the most widely used chemicals in fracking cocktails is methanol – a hazardous air pollutant and a candidate for regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). It was a component in 342 hydraulic fracturing products listed in the Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce report released last month. But Methanol wasn’t the only air pollutant - nearly 600 of the 750 products listed in that report contained a total of 24 different hazardous air pollutants, including hydrogen fluoride and lead.

Fracking pollutes the air children breathe (Dimock, PA)
Then there’s fracking sand, tiny grains of sand or ceramic that help “prop” the fractures open so gas can migrate into the wellbore. Unlike regular-sized particulates, frack sand can be very fine – maybe even “ultra-fine”, a designation for particles less than 100 nanometers. These extremely tiny particles escape our respiratory cleaning system- they’re not swept out of the bronchi by cilia or trapped in mucus. Instead, when breathed in, they go into the alveoli (the tiny air sacs at end of bronchioles) and pass directly into the blood stream. Even if the material itself is not toxic, exposure to ultra-fine particles induces respiratory diseases and may exacerbate cardiovascular problems (such as stroke and other inflammatory responses). Over 20,000 deaths each year are linked to air pollution – and many are due to ultra-fine particles that cause stroke and interfere with pacemakers.

Don’t forget air pollution generated by truck traffic, compressor stations, and other equipment that drills wells, processes gas and pressurizes it produces air emissions – primarily nitrous oxides that, when combined with sunshine, produces ozone. They also produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). All of these chemicals impact human health:
  • Air pollution is linked to decreased fertility and increased miscarriages
  • PAH exposure is linked to slower brain development
  • Air pollutants have been linked to premature birth and lower birth weight, which further impact the health of children and increases risk for lung diseases.
  • Air pollution in early life is linked to asthma
  • Air pollutants cause cancer, killing 10,260 people/ year
  • Increased rate of diabetes in areas with high traffic (air pollution)


  1. I live in Wellston Oklahoma 150 yds. from a site and we have had numerous health problems. So we had the air tested in the house and we have Saturated Hydrocarbons (as Hexane) Benzene, Toluene, Ethyl Benzene, Xylene in PPB. One other test shows 1,100 ng/L. EPA, DEQ, CC.,All News Stations. They have done nothing to contact us after many letters, and phone calls.

  2. You also apparently delete anything that disputes your claims. If you were really concerned about peoples health. Emissions in the city of New York are many times what any hydrualic fracturing jobs would create in months but you are only bent on sensationalizing against the natural gas industry

  3. Dear Anonymous #2 - perhaps your earlier comment did nothing to promote the conversation. Perhaps it was inadvertently deleted. Perhaps it linked to a commercial website. How do I know when you cloak yourself behind anonymity?
    If you have a serious issue, I invite you to send me an email. there's an email button on my profile - go ahead and use it.