Fracking wells’ air emissions pose health risks, study finds

Costs, Controls

“In places where people think its cost effective, they’re putting in those reduced emissions controls already,” Feldman said in an interview. “We think the controls may outweigh the value of the gas your capturing.”

In his Jan. 24 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said his administration would “take every possible action” to see that gas fracking is done without putting the public’s health or safety at risk. A November report from a task force named by Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that among other steps to reduce the environmental impact of drillers, emissions of air pollutants, ozone precursors, and methane should be reduced “as quickly as practicable.”

The EPA hasn’t tried to count emissions from oil and gas wells since 1993, according to Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund and a member of Chu’s task force. He called EPA’s proposed rule “a critical step.”

“Nobody has really studied the leaks from shale gas yet,” Krupp said in an interview. “We all need to be searching for the data.”

Texas Study

A study in Fort Worth, Texas, released in July found air pollution levels above state limits at five sites, and reported visible emissions at 296 of 388 gas well sites it examined. Fort Worth, with a population of 741,000, is in the Barnett Shale gas field and has more than 1,400 permitted wells in the city limits.

Garfield County is in Colorado’s gas-producing Piceance Basin. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sampled air around some gas wells in 2000, according to a 2002 report. It concluded that concentrations of non-cancer-causing chemicals in Parachute Valley, Colorado, were too low to pose significant health risk and that benzene levels were high enough to merit further study.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment tested gas sites in Garfield County from 2005 to 2007, and found levels of benzene and other pollutants that were high enough to be hazardous. There weren’t enough samples, though, to draw a clear conclusion, according to a white paper by the Colorado School of Public Health that urged more extensive testing.

Bloomberg News


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