DEP announces air quality study to continue through end of year

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A one-year study commissioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will be extended through the end of the year, the agency announced Thursday.


“The point of the extension is to make clear it is a long-term study,” said DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday. “We’re shooting for about a year of sampling, taking us into the fall.”


The study, which began in July 2012, was designed to track potential health risks associated with natural gas extraction, processing and transportation. The air quality assessment was originally scheduled to be completed last month.


Sunday said the extension was in part due to a delay in installing monitoring hardware at satellite sites and to allow more time for analyzing the data. The department hoped to release a final report next spring.


The DEP released a “technical support document” Thursday that made public information about the study’s design, sampling criteria and analysis methods. According to the 60-page document, researchers are collecting data on the concentration of pollutants near shale-related sites in the Chartiers-Houston area.


“Washington County is a hotbed of Marcellus activity,” Sunday said. “Anything that could be going on with drilling is going on in Washington County – whether it’s compressor stations, pipelines or wet gas processing facilities.”


Sampling equipment was placed in areas near the MarkWest Liberty Midstream Resources processing facility in Houston, which separates methane from other natural gas byproducts. Two other “satellite” sites were installed downwind of the plant, the Brigich study site about 2.2 miles southwest of the processing facility and the Stewart site 7 miles west. The sites will collect air samples and measure the level of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, sulfur oxides and volatile organic compounds.


The collection sites were chosen last spring, long before the extended flaring that occurred at the processing facility in July. Sunday said that while the flaring had nothing to do with the location of the satellite sites, equipment would have picked up any additional levels of hazardous toxins.


The final levels from the Chartiers-Houston stations will be compared with other historical monitoring stations in Adams, Lancaster, Delaware and Perry counties to get a statewide look at air quality and how the Marcellus region has been affected by natural gas development. Sunday said the statewide study would include a mixture of rural, urban and industrial sites.


Sunday said results from the study would help the state update air quality standards in the future. He pointed to January revisions in the general permitting process and upcoming changes to wellhead guidelines as examples of actions taken as a result of similar DEP studies.


“It will help us as we continue to refine our regulations moving forward,” Sunday said. The study will “help us as we continue to put together a holistic, big-picture understanding of this industry and help us reach the promise of air quality in the development of natural gas.”


Residents can access air-quality data collected by the agency by visiting the DEP’s website at www.DEP.state.pa.us and clicking on the “Air” hyperlink.


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