Natural gas is often touted as a clean fuel, and it is a relatively clean fuel when burned compared to coal and gasoline. However any natural gas (methane) that is lost during the extraction, transportation, and refinement process is 20 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon emissions from coal and oil products. There is also a large amount of emissions during shale gas extraction from various parts of the process. This air pollution is an often overlooked aspect of oil and gas production, especially in areas of heavy production like the Fayetteville Shale area. This pollution not only harms the overall atmosphere, but also causes health problems for residents in and around the Fayetteville Shale area as well as industry employees. Long term health effects include a wide range of things like respiratory and heart disease, cancer, asthma, reproductive and developmental problems, and many other diseases and disorders. Those living near compressor stations and in areas with numerous gas wells around them can have acute immediate health problems like nose bleeds, headaches, nausea, dizziness, eye problems, sore throat, rashes, loss of hair, and other problems. These health affects not only harm people in the area but pets, livestock, wildlife, and plants in the area. Multiple air quality studies have been done in areas of fracked oil and natural gas areas, including the Fayetteville Shale area in Arkansas. These studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the University of Colorado, Cornell University, the Eastern Research Group, Global Community Monitor, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the EPA, and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, among others, show a large amount of air pollution in the Fayetteville Shale area and other shale plays around the country. A 2011 ADEQ air study in the Fayetteville Shale reported that the department did not have the proper equipment to test for all the things that needed to be tested for to ensure public safety. The study did state that, “The greenhouse gases emitted annually (2008) from Fayetteville Shale gas production are equivalent to the emissions from approximately 650,000 passenger vehicles. The annual emissions from Fayetteville Shale are expected to have increased substantially since 2008 because of the rapid growth in the number of active wells and gas production." That's equivalent to adding 160 new vehicles for every square mile in the 4,000 square mile Fayetteville Shale area in a four to five year period. That is a staggering amount of air pollution that has led to ozone and acid rain tests in the Fayetteville Shale area to be equal to that of Los Angeles. This estimation was based on ADEQ air permits in 2008 when activity was not yet at its peak, and the study only took into account emissions from compressor stations and well pads. It did not account for added emissions from industry truck traffic and other smaller sources like generators and other engines and compressors used in the process. It also did not account for emissions from fluid pits. Here are some other things that are noted by the various studies listed above. -Air quality is affected by various parts of the process. Venting, flaring, gas lost from leaky pipes, gas lost from the well, on-site compressors, compressor stations, generators, trucks and heavy equipment, drilling and fracking fluid pits, road and land fluid applications, and dust from activity contribute to this air pollution.
-Substances found in these studies include methane, hydrogen sulfide, benzene, toluene, xylenes, ethyl benzene (BTEX), organic chemicals, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, naphthalene, acetaldehyde, acrolein, propylene, hexane, silica sand, metal dust, and a large amount of dust from roads. Along with the particulate matter, many of these gases are heavier than air, so they can linger near the ground.
-Anywhere from 2%-8% of the gas (methane) that is released during “fracking” is lost through the ground, from leaky pipes, and from venting and flaring.
-When lost methane and emissions from the process are taken into account, natural gas is worse for the atmosphere than coal and oil.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality study noted that:
-“Monitoring instruments were not sensitive enough to detect if NO2 exceeded the National Ambient Air Quality Standard.”
-“The potential effects of elevated VOC concentration on public health are dependent on the identity of the chemical composition of VOC emissions, which was not determined by this study and therefore cannot be assessed without additional data.”
-“In addition to NOX and VOCs, there are several other pollutants that may degrade local air quality around gas sites. Particulate matter may be of special concern because it can be emitted by both combustion sources such as compressor stations and physical sources such as road dust from truck traffic.”
-“Better data could be obtained if air quality was monitored at some sites for the entire well development process, including stages such as well flow-back venting that were omitted in the current study.”
-“ The health risk from elevated VOC concentration cannot be assessed by this study because monitoring equipment could not identify individual VOC compounds, which vary in toxicity.”
-“ Future studies should monitor air quality with instruments that can detect lower concentrations of pollutants and identify individual VOC compounds to determine if the emissions from gas sites are potentially harmful to public health and welfare.”