The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Pa. Department of Health (DOH) recently released two companion reports on shale development in the Commonwealth that have encouraging findings: There is little risk of shale development harming public health.

As a follow-up to its short-term ambient air analysis in 2010, DEP conducted a one-year long-term continuous air quality monitoring study in Washington County, Pa. from 2012 to 2013. Washington County was chosen because it is the location of the first Marcellus Shale well, has had extensive development in the years since 2004, has an established natural gas infrastructure network, and also has more ambient air monitoring stations than the bulk of counties in the region, according to DEP.

Key findings from the DEP report include:

  • At the primary criteria pollutant monitoring site, the pollutants that were monitored – ozone, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and carbon monoxide (CO) – did not exceed “the applicable [National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)] or [indicate] a probable future exceedance based on the data pattern.” Further, the patterns from measured concentrations “did not indicate a localized source impact which would cause exceedance of any of the NAAQS evaluated.”
  • The primary site also had “significantly fewer” Air Quality Index days that were less than “Good” compared to similar monitoring sites.
  • The monitoring sites and background sites showed no significant difference “in either cumulative estimated Excess Lifetime Cancer Risk (ELCR) or cumulative chronic non-cancer Hazard Quotient (HQ).”
  • “All four of the project HAP monitoring sites had a cumulative ELCR and HQ that were comparable to another historical Commonwealth VOC background concentration ambient monitoring site.” (emphasis added)

The DOH, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR), analyzed the DEP monitoring data to “evaluate whether a community is being exposed to levels of contaminants that may harm their health,” and then to make necessary recommendations based on its findings.

Key DOH findings include:

  • “Based on the air sampling collected from July 2012 to July 2013, exposure to the contaminant levels found in ambient air are not expected to harm healthy individuals.”
  • “The measured concentrations of acetaldehyde are substantially lower than those observed to have caused health effects in animals and humansbased on scientific research studies. … The calculated additional cancer risk for this chemical is very low. Therefore, long-term acetaldehyde inhalation exposures at the levels detected by PADEP in this project are not expected to harm people’s health.”
  • “The measured concentrations of benzene are substantially lower than those observed to have caused health effects in humans and animals based on scientific research studies, and are similar to background levels measured in this project and in rural areas of the United States. The calculated additional cancer risk for this chemical is very low. Therefore, long-term benzene inhalation exposures at the levels detected by PADEP in this project are not expected to harm people’s health.”
  • “The measured concentrations of formaldehyde are substantially lower than those observed to have caused cancerhealth effects in humans based on scientific research studies, and are consistent with background levels measured in the United States.”
  • “The general population of healthy and sensitive individuals are not expected to experience harmful effectsfrom PM2.5 exposure at the levels found in the PADEP long term air data set.”

DOH identified that it was unable to access whether the monitoring sites represented “worst case, typical, or non-typical emissions from the identified natural gas production and operations sources.” Nonetheless, as Marcellus Shale Coalition president David Spigelmyer told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the air quality analysis “is encouraging, in line with other published independent reports, and reflects industry’s deep commitment to protecting our environment, communities, and public health.”

One such independent study that reached similar conclusions in Washington County conducted continuous air quality monitoring of the Fort Cherry School District in 2012. The study found,

“The results of the fracking and flaring sampling periods were similar to the results obtained from the baseline monitoring period and likewise, did not show anything remarkable with respect to chemicals detected in the ambient air. When volatile compounds were detected, they were consistent with background levels measured at the school and in other areas in Washington County. Furthermore, a basic yet conservative screening level evaluation shows that the detected volatile compounds were below health-protective levels.” (emphasis added)

These reports — which, again, are based on actual air measurements — stand in sharp contrast to a pair of anti-fracking activist group-led reports released over the past two weeks that claim to find evidence of health impacts from fracking in Washington County based entirely on anecdotal accounts.

Contrary to the regurgitated anti-fracking talking points from those reports, the DEP and DOH reports confirm fracking is protective of public health, and Pennsylvania’s shale industry has continued to improve upon best practices that include protections for air quality. In fact, the abundance of shale gas being used in the state has led to reduced carbon emissions, even as the Commonwealth’s natural gas production has skyrocketed over the last decade. These latest reports join the growing body of science demonstrating shale development can and is being developed in a manner that bolsters Pennsylvania’s economy, while protecting our environment.