Emissions from Marcellus Shale Account for Small Portion of Health/Pollution Problems in PA
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In 2011, air pollutants from natural gas extraction and transportation in Pennsylvania cost the state between $7 million and $32 million in healthcare, agriculture, and infrastructure costs. That’s according to a recent study from the RAND Corporation. For comparison, the state’s largest coal-fired power plant alone cost $75 million in damages.
“The total emissions are actually pretty small,” said RAND Scientist Aimee Curtright, “and the total damages are pretty small, but the emissions are not evenly distributed over the entire state, it’s not just an average level of emissions over the whole state, it actually is concentrated in the couple of counties where activity is the highest.”
That means health and other effects are higher in areas near non-conventional development sites.
“If you’re in a county where there’s not any activity going on, this is not affecting your health, but if you’re in the vicinity of one of these things it is going to have an impact on your health,” said Curtright.
As this data was being released by RAND, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released an emissions inventory of its own that found the shale gas industry is responsible for about 4 percent of the total air pollution emitted by all industrial facilities in 2011.
While both reports state emissions from Marcellus Shale development are small, RAND numbers were higher than DEP site-level emissions by a factor of about four. Curtright said there are a couple of reasons for that. One, RAND calculated using 200 new compressor stations in 2011, DEP used 150. That could be because only that amount were online, or 50 of those were not counted because they are considered conventional natural gas development, versus non-conventional.
“And their inventory accounted for what had actually been installed by the end of 2011, in quite a few of these cases, the compressor station was permitted up to a certain level but not built up to that level in 2011, and that’s the biggest source of the discrepancy between our numbers and theirs,” said Curtright.
The DEP report found the industry produced 16,542 tons of nitrogen oxides and 2,720 tons of volatile organic compounds in 2011. The agency is required to send statewide air emissions data to the federal Environmental Protection Agency every three years. Since the last report in 2008 emissions from all industries statewide have decreased.