(Updated post from November 2019)
November 20, 2019 – Yesterday marked the 7th annual “Shale and Public Health” Conference spearheaded by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, and hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, with funding from the Colcom Foundation and the Heinz Endowments.
I’ve been to all seven of these health conferences. The all-day conference features a line-up of top notch health professionals and researchers from around the US who have been taking a close look at what it means to live near fracked gas production. The passing years, and ongoing studies, have added to their knowledge and focus. As one researcher pointed out, there will never be a “perfect health study,” even though research has revealed many smoking guns around fracked gas production.
I’ve heard some these speakers on multiple occasions, and it is most interesting to learn from their ongoing studies and research. The first speaker yesterday was Michael McCawley, M.S.E., Ph.D – Clinical Associate Professor in the WVU School of Public Health’s Dept. of Occupational and Environmental Health. His topic this year was “Compressor Station Emissions and Health.”
Image: Two huge compressor stations, nearly 20,000 horsepower each, were built in Smith Township, Washington County, PA. The Three Brothers compressor station is near Atlasburg, PA while the Smith Compressor Station is located further north, next to the Revolution Cryogenic Plant.
FLIR video of air pollution emissions
Since our Washington County, Pennsylvania has seen the development of at least sixty-four (64) compressor stations and gas processing facilities since the Marcellus Shale fracking boom began, he was speaking my language, since I have closely followed the increasing number and size of these air polluting facilities used to move gas through pipelines. He enlightened the 150 people in attendance on all the adverse health outcomes related to inflammation — ones aggravated by the ultra-fine particles (UFP’s) emitted by compressor stations.
Image: Inflammation caused by ultra-fine particles (UFP’s) is the enemy of good health. Cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, neurodegenerative disease, cancer and adverse birth outcomes top the list of diseases associated with UFP’s.
Our western Pennsylvania terrain makes matters worse, since valleys trap air pollution, and we have air inversions that further hold that pollution, especially in September and October. We live in a valley. Lots of people in the Pittsburgh area have settled in valleys, just like the air pollution, new and old.
Image: Since Dr. McCawley is from West Virginia, he pointed out that valleys are known to him as “hollows.”
“Over 64 compressor stations and gas processing facilities have been built in our Washington County, Pa. since 2004. Any comments?”
Dr. McCawley thought for a bit before responding with, “You have my sincerest and deepest regrets.” After hearing his full presentation, and learning the facts, his answer was a foregone conclusion. But I needed to hear it again — for our own good — we should move. Easier said than done, I’m rooted like an Oak tree in over 200 years of ancestry here. Blood, sweat and tears. This is “home” in the truest sense of the word.2019 Shale and Public Health Conference
Image: “Egg slicer” permitting has allowed these sorts of air pollution sources to spread like a plague across our county, with no end in sight. We are down wind from this Pennsylvania air pollution, as well as what’s blowing in from the panhandle of West Virginia and eastern Ohio. The industry speaks glowingly about making our region a petrochemical hub, with multiple cracker plants, which are huge sources of air pollution.
Image: NOx and VOC’s in the presence of sunlight create ground level ozone, a problem common to heavily drilled areas in the United States — parts of heavily-drilled rural Wyoming began experiencing higher ozone levels than traffic-choked Los Angeles.
We can’t just move to the next township, since our township is actually a “donut hole” without any active drilling and fracking. However, we are surrounded by heavily drilled townships where newer “mega” pads are now being permitted with as many as fifty-two (52) wells. Our county has more Marcellus Shale gas wells than any other county in the state.
Image: The second of two huge compressor stations built in the same township. The vicinity around this Smith compressor station has seen further oil and gas development since, with the construction of two large cryogenic gas facilities and more compressor stations.
Images: The Revolution Cryogenic Gas Plant in Washington County, Pa. is fed by the Revolution Pipeline that blew-up in 2018. Update: Felling of trees, to reroute a section of the damaged pipeline, began in late-2020 to put the pipeline back into service.
REVOLUTION PROJECTENERGY TRANSFER – Fact Sheet – Jan. 2016
The approximate 100-mile natural gas gathering system will originate in Butler County, Pennsylvania and will cross Beaver, Allegheny and Washington Counties where it will connect to the Revolution cryogenic plant planned for Smith Township in Washington County, Pennsylvania. The residue gas from this plant will be delivered into the Rover Pipeline for deliveries to markets in Ohio and Michigan with access to additional markets across the U.S. including the Northeast, Great Lakes and Gulf Coast regions as well as to Canadian through Rover’s connection to the Dawn Hub in Ontario, Canada. The natural gas liquids (NGLs) from the Revolution Cryogenic Plant will be delivered to Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East pipeline system for delivery to the Revolution fractionation facility at the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex. From there, the NGLs will be fractionated into purity products such as propane and butane for domestic and international consumption or they will be delivered directly into the Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner West Pipeline System for delivery in U.S. and Canadian markets.
Combine all that drilling and fracking with all the gas production facilities upwind of us in the Ohio and West Virginia tri-state area, and we’re reminded once again that it’s a bad place to live, even without living in a valley. Our region has struggled with polluted air for decades, and while the shuttering of several coal-burning plants has helped some statistics, the trend will now devolve again as “unnatural gas” production takes over. Especially with forecasts of an increased level of drilling and fracking extending another 50 years, due to cracker plant(s).
Image: Gas well development at one site brings “ten thousand diesel truck trips” and all the resulting air pollution, according to Dr. McCawley. Seventy-percent of this current production is for exports.
Image: Graph showing how UFP count shadows the truck count. Drilling and fracking is heavily rooted in diesel engine air pollution.
Image: Two rows of truck mounted 2,500 horsepower fracking pumps in series, run 24-7 to create 9,000 to 15,000 p.s.i. of pressure to crack the Marcellus shale which is over one mile below the surface, with some well laterals extending another three miles or more through the shale layer.
FLIR video of air pollution you can’t see during fracking
We first learned about compressor stations from Mayor Calvin Tillman of DISH, Texas. Several compressor stations had been built at the edge of his town, so he was probably the first to sound the alarm on all the air toxins, as seen in this 2012 video: Calvin Tillman, Former Mayor of Dish, TX, Discusses Compressor Stations and Cancer and this segment from the movie GASLAND.
Getting back to rapid and massive build-out of local compressor stations, Dr. McCawley pointed out that while well drilling will come and go, the compressor stations will be there until the gas is gone. And without any sensible regulations in place to limit their further construction in our county, we have a “fracked air pollution future” laced with ultra fine particles.
Image: Photochemical oxidation of combustion products creates ultra-fine particles (UFP’s) that create adverse health outcomes.
Pennsylvania Community Empowerment ProjectEarthworks OGI in Pennsylvania
Over 100 FLIR videos of gas production and processing in Pennsylvania. For more info on the Community Empowerment Project and the FLIR GF320 optical gas imaging camera: http://cep.earthworks.org
I think of all the “shale refugees” I’ve gotten to know over the past 15 years of Marcellus Shale development. Of the ones who have moved, only a few have actually moved far enough away – out of state. Others have escaped the temporary “danger close” pollution of a well site or gas processing plant with a 10 to 20 mile move, but the pollution will follow them as this region is “drilled out.”
Dr. David Brown of SW-EHP: Will Pennsylvania cut oil & gas air pollution?
Blog: Ignoring Gas Patch Kids