(Republished blog from November 5, 2019)
It’s jaw-dropping to see how much infrastructure has been built by the natural gas industry over the past 15 years, all since the first Marcellus Shale well was fracked in Washington County Pa. in 2004. Far beyond the gas well pads and pipeline maze, this rapid development includes compressor stations, rail-out facilities and cryogenic gas plants.
Image: Health impacts to the respiratory, nervous system, reproductive system, digestive system, immune system and cardiovascular system.
You could easily call it “runaway development,” especially when it comes to sensible environmental permitting, since the cumulative effect of multiple Pennsylvania gas facilities in close proximity to one another is rarely, if ever, taken into account. Lisa Graves-Marcucci of the Environmental Integrity Project refers to it as “Egg slicer permitting.”
Further Marcellus Shale gas development has been rapid in the 4 years since this map was compiled in 2015. The cumulative air pollution created by these earlier, smaller compressor stations in Washington County, Pa. was nearly equivalent to that of 3 large steel mills! Map image credit:: Clean Air Council
In just 3 more recent years, we see the number of gas compression and processing facilities jumped from 37 to 64, nearly doubling. Washington County, Pennsylvania leads all the other counties in the state with 1,600 Marcellus Shale wells. Map image: FracTracker
Since closer proximity to the air pollution created by these facilities adds risk, you would think a larger buffer zone and/or restricting the amount of major air pollution in one geographical area, would make perfect sense, especially where school children are involved.
Modern pollution is more likely to be made up of fine, invisible particles and colorless vapors and fumes rather than dark, smoky soot. Air pollution also effects neurological development and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma and childhood cancer, the [WHO] report says. Children exposed to excessive pollution may also be at greater risk of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease in adulthood. Children are more susceptible to pollution because they breathe more often, taking in more pollutants, and are closer to the ground, which is where some pollutants have higher concentrations.
Pollution from busy roads may delay kids’ development.
Air pollution from London traffic is affecting the health of unborn babies.
Air pollution particles found in mothers’ placentas, new study finds.
Air Pollution Is Linked to Miscarriages in China, Study Finds.
Study Links Air Pollution to Increased Risk of Infant Death.
Air pollution tied to high blood pressure for children.
Childhood obesity linked to air pollution from vehicles.
Air Pollution: U.S. Ranks World’s Third Worst in Study on Asthma in Children.
How Car Pollution Hurts Kids’ Performance in School.
Air pollution is linked to anxiety and suicidal thoughts in children, study finds.Clean Air from the First Breath
Case in point would be Smith Township, which surrounds Burgettstown, and is just southwest of Pittsburgh International Airport. As the old saying goes, “the more wells that are drilled, the more compressor stations you need to move the gas through pipelines.” Most compressors are fired by natural gas, while some are electric.
Image: One the “smaller” compressor stations built during the early years of Marcellus Shale development in Washington County, Pennsylvania, has just under 7,000 compression horsepower.
In the early years of Marcellus Shale drilling, compressor stations were mostly “smaller” ones, will all the compressors in one facility producing no more than 7,000 horsepower. In more recent years, those facilities have grown closer to 20,000 horsepower, with two of those “jumbos” in just one township — Smith Township – the Three Brothers and the Smith compressor stations.
The more recent “jumbo” Three Brothers compressor station, near Atlasburg in Smith Township, Pennsylvania, produces just under 20,000 compression horsepower, along with the accompanying air pollution. This commercial facility only paid $1,268.95 in 2019 county taxes, which is more than 50% less than the $2,803.01 paid in 2018.
Another of the more recent “jumbo” compressor stations — the Smith Compressor Station — situated two miles from the Burgettstown school campus in Smith Township, produces nearly 20,000 compression horsepower along with the accompanying air pollution.
In the years since those two jumbo compressor stations were built, the petrochemical facility build-out between the Smith compressor station and Burgettstown Jr./Sr. High School has gone into hyper mode, with further development of two large cryogenic gas plants and more compressor stations. Lately there has been news of a proposed gas-fired power plant in that same vicinity.
These two new cryogenic gas plants ‘double up’ to add more air pollution — within two miles of the Burgettstown Jr/Sr High School campus. Image: Marcellus Air
Image: Burgettstown Jr/Sr High School campus
This is all in addition to the gas wells and other related facilities surrounding the Burgettstown school campus. There is a huge amount of oil and gas industry truck traffic on Route 18, which passes less than ½-mile to the southwest of the school campus, creating additional concerns about particulate air pollution (PM2.5) from large volumes of 24-7 diesel truck traffic.
Wastewater tankers are often seen running in convoys on Route 18, within 1/2-mile of the school campus, at all hours of the day and night.
With the explosion of oil and gas exploration, extraction, and usage in the United States in recent years, it shouldn’t be surprising that after decades of improving air quality around the country, air pollution, says Nadja Popovich, is making a dangerous comeback, according to new research from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh: New data reveals that damaging air pollution has increased nationally since 2016, reversing a decades-long trend toward cleaner air. An analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data published this week by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that fine particulate pollution increased 5.5 percent on average across the country between 2016 and 2018, after decreasing nearly 25 percent over the previous seven years.A Dangerous Comeback
While the terrain in other top oil and gas drilling states is far more level, the western Pennsylvania terrain is all hills and valleys, where air pollution gets trapped in valleys. Air inversions amplify this pollution effect. The combination of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds — NOx & VOCs that are common in gas production — form ozone in the presence of sunlight. Ozone has been a problem since drilling ramped up in Colorado and Wyoming gas patches.
May 2015 – Looking west over the Hickory Pennsylvania area, where the first Marcellus Shale well was drilled 11 years earlier.