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Environment & Energy

State Looking at Air Quality in Washington County Long-Term

Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is starting a long-term air quality study to collect accurate data, monitor, and analyze potential health risks associated with "wet" Marcellus Shale gas.

Wet Marcellus Shale gas has condensate and more liquid compounds than dry gas and is more prevalent on the western edges of the shale formation. Other studies that the DEP conducted in the northwestern, northcentral and southwestern part of the commonwealth showed no contaminants that would have presented any air-related health issues.

This study will be conducted at four sites in Washington County. Deputy Press Secretary for the DEP Kevin Sunday said at the sites ambient airborne pollution will be measured upwind and downwind of wet shale gas compressor and processor sites.

"The main site will be in Chartiers Township, downwind of the Houston gas processing plant, and at that we're monitoring for ozone particular matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen sulfide and methane and 60 other volatile organic compounds," Sunday said. "Then there's three other sites, two also in Chartiers. One is upwind of that same Houston gas processing plant, and the other is downwind of some compressor stations. Then there's a fourth site in Hickory Township that's downwind of some other compressor stations, and at these we'll be monitoring for volatile organic compounds and conducting some meteorological data."

Sunday said the data collected over one full year will be compared to the national ambient air quality standards. The information will also assist the DEP in conducting a long-term risk analysis.

"That would basically tell us if you were to be living or working in close proximity to these sites what your potential health impacts may be," Sunday said.

Sunday said the long-term study was built of several short-term studies conducted over a 5-week period during the past two years. Those studies involved mobile structures.

"We wanted to make sure that when we became operational we had the best equipment that was fully calibrated and we had the best protocols to make sure that whatever conclusions we end up making they're based off of the best data available," Sunday said.

Sunday added the drilling industry did not have any say in where the study was conducted, and explained why Washington County was ideal for monitoring air quality.

"There's the potential for more hazardous air pollutants in volatile organic compounds coming from the wet gas than you would see in the dry gas in the north central part of the state," Sunday said. "Washington County was an ideal site for us to station ourselves for a full year to get 365 days of continuous data and get an idea throughout the year with all the dynamic processes that Marcellus Shale development brings with it, get an idea of what happens throughout an entire year and extrapolate from that potential long-term health impacts, if any, from such development."