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AIR QUALITY PROBLEMS -- This page is under construction

CU Denver study links fracking to higher concentration of air pollutants


People living within a half-mile of oil- and gas-well fracking operations were exposed to air pollutants five times above a federal hazard standard, according to a new Colorado study.

Among the chemicals detected at elevated concentrations in the new study were trimethylbenzenes, aliphatic hydrocarbons and xylenes.

Colorado oil-gas pollution tops expectations

Ozone-forming air pollution measured along the Colorado Front Range by scientists is up to twice the amount that government regulators have calculated should exist, according to a new study. The researchers pinpoint oil and gas development as the main source -- a finding that could have broad implications for the petroleum industry across the Rocky Mountain region.

Chart from presentation "Erie VOCs: Ground-based observations"

Erie VOCs: Ground-based observations gilman.pdf

Impacts of Gas Drilling Examined

The health impacts of drilling go beyond the fracking chemicals, Shelley said. The diesel and natural gas emissions from trucks, compressors, pumps and other equipment contains a complex of benzenes, toluene, and xylene as well as other volatile organic compounds. Drilling activity and traffic create high levels of dust, and methane from venting and flaring contributes to the air pollution. These chemicals may combine with nitrogen oxides to form ground level ozone.

The EPA recently proposed lowering the allowable level of nitrogen oxides and ground level ozone to protect human health, Shelley said.

"Fugitive methane" released during shale gas drilling could accelerate climate change

January 20, 2012

Recent data from two Cornell scientists and others indicate that within the next 20 years, methane will contribute 44 percent of the greenhouse gas load produced by the U.S. Of that portion, 17 percent will come from all natural gas operations.

Molecule for molecule, methane traps 20 to 25 times more heat in the atmosphere than does carbon dioxide. The effect dissipates faster, however: airborne methane remains in the atmosphere for about 12 years before being scrubbed out by ongoing chemical reactions, whereas CO2 lasts 30 to 95 years.

Ingraffea said capture is difficult because the gas is emitted along with the flow-back water, but a procedure known as a "green completion," in which special equipment traps the gas, has been shown to work. Regulators do not require that step, however, and the market price of methane is less than the cost of capturing it in that way, so drillers have no incentive to do so for economic reasons.

Footage of Well Being Finished

Sources of Oil and Gas Air Pollution

Condensate tanks: Some natural gas wells produce a semi-liquid condensate along with the gas. Condensates are hydrocarbons that are in a gaseous state within the reservoir (prior to production), but become liquid during the production process. Condensates are composed of hydrocarbons (typically those containing five or more carbon molecules), as well as aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, xylenes and ethylbenzene (BTEX).

Condensates may give off a characteristic hydrocarbon or petroleum-type smell. BTEX give off a sweet, aromatic odor. Most people can smell benzene when it reaches levels of approximately 1.5 - 5 parts of benzene per million parts of air (ppm). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set maximum exposure levels for workers at 1 ppm (over an 8-hour period) and 5 ppm (over a 15-minute period). At levels above 150 ppm some people may begin to experience serious and irreversible health effects. The vapors of benzene, toluene and xylenes are heavier than air and may accumulate in low-lying areas.

COGCC rule 800-3 As of April 1, 2009

Condensate Tanks. All condensate tanks with a potential to emit volatile organic compounds (VOC) of five (5) tons per year (tpy) or greater, located in Garfield, Mesa, or Rio Blanco County and within 1/4 mile of a building unit, educational facility, assembly building, hospital, nursing home, board and care facility, jail, or designated outside activity area shall utilize a control device capable of achieving 95% control efficiency of VOC and shall hold a valid permit from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Air Pollution Control Division, for the tank and control device. Condensate tanks meeting the above criteria and existing on May 1, 2009 on federal lands and on April 1, 2009 on all other lands shall be in compliance with this subsection by October 1, 2009.

B. Crude Oil and Produced Water Tanks. All crude oil and produced water tanks with a potential to emit VOC of five (5) tpy or greater, located in Garfield, Mesa, or Rio Blanco County and within 1/4 mile of a building unit, educational facility, assembly building, hospital, nursing home, board and care facility, jail, or designated outside activity area shall utilize a control device capable of achieving 95% control efficiency of VOC and shall hold a valid permit from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Air Pollution Control Division, for the tank and control device. Crude oil and produced water tanks meeting the above criteria and existing on May 1, 2009 on federal lands and on April 1, 2009 on all other lands shall be in compliance with this subsection by October 1, 2009.

Shale Gas Isn't Cleaner Than Coal, Cornell Researchers Say

April 11, 2011

Cornell University researchers say that natural gas pried from shale formations is dirtier than coal in the short term, rather than cleaner, and "comparable" in the long term.

"Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years," states a pre-publication copy (pdf) of the study, which is slated to be published in the journal Climatic Science and originally obtained by The Hill newspaper.

Howarth and his fellow Cornell professors, Renee Santoro and Anthony Ingraffea, found the process of "hydraulic fracturing," which is required to extract gas from shale, emits enough methane to make it dirtier than coal. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide but does not last as long in the atmosphere.

Five Percent of Worl d' s Natural Gas Wasted, GE Report Says

04 April 2011

GE today released a study, Flare Gas Reduction: Recent Global Trends and Policy Considerations, which estimates that 5 percent of the worl d' s natural gas production is wasted by burning or "flaring" unused gas each year -- an amount equivalent to 30 percent of consumption in the European Union and 23 percent in the United States. Gas flaring emits 400 million metric tons of CO2 annually, the same as 77 million automobiles, without producing useful heat or electricity. Worldwide, billions of cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas are wasted annually, typically as a by-product of oil extraction.

Unnatural Emissions: Flaring Gas From Oil Sites

September 30, 2011

The thumbnail description: When oil is extracted from wells, i t' s often accompanied by natural gas. Ther e' s no economical way to store and use that natural gas, so i t' s burned ( " flared " ) right at the site. You often see photos of offshore oil rigs with a flame constantly burning at their top. Tha t' s the natural gas burning off.

Every day, more than 100 million cubic feet of natural gas is flared this way -- enough energy to heat half a million homes for a day. The flared gas also spews at least two million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, as much as 384,000 cars or a medium-size coal-fired power plant would emit, alarming some environmentalists.

In North Dakota, Flames of Wasted Natural Gas Light the Prairie

September 26, 2011

" I ' ll tell you why people flare: I t' s cheap ," said Troy Anderson, lead operator of a North Dakota gas-processing plant owned by Whiting Petroleum. " Pipelines are expensive: You have to maintain them. You need permits to build them. They are a pain ." Although capturing the gas is the best option, scientists say that flaring is better for the environment than venting the gas into the atmosphere. Pure natural gas is mostly methane, which has far greater heat-trapping qualities than carbon dioxide.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has recently proposed new air emissions standards for fracked wells, and it has also begun to ask oil companies to compile data on greenhouse gas emissions from drilling and other operations.

Sources of Oil and Gas Air Pollution

Flares emit a host of air pollutants, depending on the chemical composition of the gas being burned and the efficiency and temperature of the flare. Flaring results in hydrogen sulfide emissions if hydrogen sulfide is present in large enough amounts in the natural gas. There may also be additional by-products formed if some of the chemicals used during the drilling or hydraulic fracturing process are converted to a gaseous form and are burned along with the natural gas. The Ventura County Air Pollution Control District, in California has estimated that the following air pollutants may be released from natural gas flares: benzene, formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, including naphthalene), acetaldehyde, acrolein, propylene, toluene, xylenes, ethyl benzene and hexane. Researchers in Canada have measured more than 60 air pollutants downwind of natural gas flares.[1]

El Paso County Health Department eliminated its Air Quality Program in 2009

Due to budget cuts and unstable funding, the El Paso County Health Department eliminated its Air Quality Program in 2009. Permits are no longer being issued or required by the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment for any Air Quality-related work (e.g., construction, demolition, sandblasting, open burning) conducted within County limits. However, State requirements may still apply.

The El Paso County Health Department will no longer be responding to air quality complaints. Contact the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Air Pollution Control Division at (303)-692-3100 or (303) 692-3247 to file a complaint.

Outdoor Air Quality

El Paso County Health Department eliminated its Air Quality Program in 2009. El Paso County is monitored by the Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. El Paso County currently monitors for ozone, carbon monoxide and particulate matter and due to low concentrations no longer monitors for lead, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen dioxide.

Criteria pollutants are those for which the federal government has established ambient air quality standards in the Federal Clean Air Act and its amendments. The six pollutant criteria are carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead, and particulate matter split into two size fractions.

Four monitoring sites are within the Colorado Springs metro area. They are located at Colorado College, USAFA, Manitou Springs and the airport. According to the Colorado 2009 Air Quality Data Report, there are no exceedances reported for 2010.


Because no other funding options are available, the [El Paso County] Health Department has been forced to eliminate many important public health protections in order to preserve and sustain others. Some of the services the public expects the Health Department to provide will no longer be available. Unfortunately, this means that the community will be facing the potential of greater risk.

The following public health services will be reduced, suspended or eliminated in 2009:

• Air Quality: Monitoring indexes, facility inspections, new construction planning, including ability to respond to complaints about dust—eliminated

• Water Quality: Rural non-community ground water system inspections—eliminated.

The New Falcon Herald, December 20, 2008


Oil and gas emissions loom as Junction's primary air pollutant
Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, September 28, 2006, Bobby Magill

"Take a deep breath in downtown Grand Junction and the air you'll inhale will likely contain an amount of toxic substances similar to that found in Denve r's air, a federal study says.  Within the Grand Junction city limits, vehicle tailpipes may be the primary culprit for local air pollution, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study.  But a Colorado Air Quality Control Commission report released last week pegs oil and gas development as the primary source of regional air pollution."

Health is a casualty on the fast track to gas drilling

June 12, 2006

Susan Haire, 55 and a small-scale rancher, lived on top of one of the surrounding mesas for nearly a decade, but she says that in the last year, the landscape turned against her. When she drove down this stretch of highway, her nose bled, her eyes burned and her head pounded. She began wearing a respirator to clean the air in her car.

Haire's doctor blamed her ill health on the changes that occurred around her: In the last two years, gas companies have drilled over 600 natural gas wells. Every few feet, 150-foot-tall drill rigs -- all flying American flags -- rise upwards into the sky. Banks of rectangular huts with five-foot diameter fans sit back from the road, pumping and moving the gas into underground pipelines.

Haire's experience isn't unique. Veteran oil and gas lawyer Lance Astrella of Denver, who has built a career fighting the industry on behalf of citizens, says he has talked with dozens of people who blame their health problems on the surge of new gas wells. Between January and March of this year, eight people called the Garfield County oil and gas department to complain about air quality. They asked about black smoke and strong chemical odors that they worried could make them sick.

In 2004, a group of 18 top public health experts alerted the EPA and Interior Department officials that accelerated oil and gas drilling in the West was taking place without adequate regard for human health. The warning was not heeded.

One agency staffer, who plans to retire soon, speaks out bluntly: "It's a catch-22: If the EPA doesn't study the health impacts, then there's no proof anything dangerous happening is happening. That's irrational and corrupt," says Wes Wilson, an environmental engineer with the EPA's Denver office for the past 32 years. He calls his agency's position sad: "We used to investigate mysteries and now we're not. It's kind of like we're being paid off with our generous salaries. The American public would be shocked if they knew we (at EPA) make six figures, and we basically sit around and do nothing."

Drilling can dig into land value

Among multiple complaints, inspectors with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality singled out the diesel engines the company used in its drilling and work-over operations, recommending greater emissions controls.

Diesel particulate can easily become lodged in people's lungs and is a known carcinogen.

Sources of Oil and Gas Air Pollution

Drilling, completion and workover trucks, rigs and equipment such as pumps typically run off of diesel-powered or gasoline engines. The exhaust fumes from gasoline and diesel fuels can produce emissions that are noticeable to people living downwind. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are found in exhaust from motor vehicles and other gasoline and diesel engines. A long list of other air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, BTEX, formaldehyde and metals are also contained in diesel fuel combustion products.

Silt Mesa family claims gas fumes forcing them out
Parents, children suffering from rashes, nosebleeds

January 4, 2011

One of the most vocal critics of gas drilling activities in the Silt Mesa area has been told by a doctor that she and her family have to move for their health's sake.

Downplaying the concerns and fears expressed by Strudley and other residents of Garfield County in recent years, the industry has maintained that their activities are closely regulated by the state government and do not pose health hazards to nearby residents.

William Strudley, 13, was the first to show symptoms, beginning with severe nosebleeds that his mom said could only be stemmed by putting Tampon feminine napkins up his nose. He then developed a persistent rash over much of his body that itches and burns. Then, two weeks ago, his mother said, he passed out in the bathroom for no apparent reason. In the meantime, her other son, Charlie, 11, has begun showing the same symptoms, as have she and her husband.

Group: Air sampling reveals toxins near drilling

July 12, 2011

Nine air samples by residents near natural gas drilling in Colorado and New Mexico found four carcinogens and 18 other toxic chemicals, a new report says.

The nonprofit group Global Community Monitor says that in some cases chemicals were found at levels from three to 3,000 times levels deemed safe by state and federal agencies for long-term exposure. Although the samples are one-time measures, the group says it believes they are indicative of long-term exposures.

The monitoring found numerous instances of high levels of the carcinogen benzene and other toxins in the Durango area. One Garfield County site, on Silt Mesa, was included in the study report. There, a sample taken Jan. 15 found hydrogen sulfide at a level more than 185 times above the long-term amount the Environmental Protection Agency believes creates an increased risk of serious health impacts, the report says.

Draft Battlement Mesa HIA, Revision 1
February 2011 Conducted by Colorado School of Public Health

Findings and Specific Recommendations from Air Quality Assessment

What we know: Air pollution is a known hazard to the public health. There is sufficient information available to indicate that even with current practices and technologies the natural gas

What we do not know : Currently, there is not enough information to determine whether or not current federal, state, and COGCC regulations and rules are sufficient to protect public health from air pollution resulting from natural gas development and production in high population density areas such as the Battlement Mesa PUD. industry produces large amounts of air pollutants.

Prior to approval of the special use permit, we recommend the BOCC require Antero to:

1. Demonstrate that the low emissions flow back technology Antero is developing is effective in reducing air emissions.

2. Disclose all chemicals that will be used on its well pads within the PUD.

3. Establish a system for immediate response to odor complaints that includes options for ceasing operations, notification of affected residents, and temporary relocation of residents until the source of the odor is identified and resolved.

There are 20 other recommendations...

Findings and Specific Recommendations from Water and Soil Quality Assessment

What we know: Water pollution is hazardous to the public health. Garfield County Oil and Gas studies, EPA studies, and other studies demonstrate that natural gas development and production can release contaminants to domestic water supplies and compromise water quality. Individual circumstances can influence the potential contamination of water. In Garfield County, accidents and malfunctions have been the most common cause of water contamination from natural gas development and production. However, the Mamm Creek Hydrological Study indicates some impacts to groundwater, such as increased levels of chloride and methane, from routine natural gas operations. If a domestic water resource is contaminated, remediation is time and cost intensive and may not restore the water resource to a quality for domestic use.

What we do not know : Systematic monitoring is needed to verify that ground water is not compromised by routine natural gas development and production operations. Systematic monitoring can also provide early warning if water becomes contaminated.

There are 21 recommendations

Findings and Recommendations from Air Quality Assessment Draft, February 2011
Conducted by Colorado School of Public Health