During its normal operation, natural gas drilling & extraction releases methane and other toxic chemicals and VOCs (volotile organic compounds) into the air. Much is known about the dangers of the smog and ozone and its effect on the health of humans and animals.
Watch this video taken by the EPA showing the gas emissions from a condensate tank. Note the building in the background is a school.
Read this article from The Dallas Morning News about the widespread evidence of emissions: Most Barnett Shale facilities release emissions.
Another great source of information is this study: “Evidence of Emissions from Oil and Gas Drilling Operations in Northeastern Colorado”
About Methane Emissions:
“Methane emissions occur in all sectors of the natural gas industry, from drilling and production, through processing and transmission, to distribution. They primarily result from normal operations, routine maintenance, fugitive leaks and system upsets. As gas moves through the system, emissions occur through intentional venting and unintentional leaks. Venting can occur through equipment design or operational practices, such as the continuous bleed of gas from pneumatic devices (that control gas flows, levels, temperatures, and pressures in the equipment), or venting from well completions during production. In addition to vented emissions, methane losses can occur from leaks (also referred to as fugitive emissions) in all parts of the infrastructure, from connections between pipes and vessels, to valves and equipment. In addition to natural gas operations, methane emissions can result from the oil industry, primarily from field production operations, such as venting of associated gas from oil wells, oil storage tanks, and production-related equipment such as gas dehydrators, pig traps, and pneumatic devices.” (Source: EPA, http://www.epa.gov/gasstar/basic-information/index.html#overview1)
“Sour” Wells and Hydrogen Sulfide
“Sour gas is a term used to refer to gas which contains hydrogen sulfide in concentrations greater than four parts per million. The term “sour gas” is usually used with reference to natural gas, although it can be used to discuss other gases as well. Gas with impurities such as hydrogen sulfide needs to be treated before it can be safely used. The gas refining process includes a step known as “sweetening” to remove hydrogen sulfide and other materials.
When natural gas is initially accessed in the field, it usually contains an assortment of impurities, which can depend on where natural gas drilling sites are located. These impurities must be removed at a refinery to ensure that the gas performs in a stable and predictable way when it is used. In the case of sour gas, the hydrogen sulfide gives the gas a distinctively strong odor which makes it easy to identify, and the sweetening process removes much of the odor.” (SOURCE: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-sour-gas.htm)
The Washington State Department of Health states “People living near a wastewater treatment plant, gas and oil drilling operation, farm with manure storage or livestock confinement facilities, or a landfill may be exposed to higher levels of hydrogen sulfide”
We do have sour gas wells in Colorado and in Weld County. Hydrogen Sulfide has been compared to cyanide in its lethality. To read a good summary of the health effects of exposure, http://www.gasdetection.com/TECH/h2s.html
“Hydrogen Sulfide or sour gas (H2S) is a flammable, colorless gas that is toxic at extremely low concentrations. It is heavier than air, and may accumulate in low-lying areas. It smells like “rotten eggs” at low concentrations and causes you to quickly lose your sense of smell. Many areas where the gas is found have been identified, but pockets of the gas can occur anywhere.
Iron sulfide is a byproduct of many production operations and may spontaneously combust with air.
Flaring operations associated with H2S production will generate Sulfur Dioxide (S02), another toxic gas.
Active monitoring for hydrogen sulfide gas and good planning and training programs for workers are the best ways to prevent injury and death.” (SOURCE: OSHA, http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/oilandgas/general_safety/h2s_monitoring.html)
Additional article, a case in Michigan where hydrogen sulfide was detected 80 miles from the source of a leak. http://banmichiganfracking.org/?m=20112
Hydrogen Sulfide in Colorado
“In 2010, Ryan Beaver’s job was to monitor for hydrogen sulfide in the same kinds of tanks.
“I’ve seen the levels with my own eyes and I know what that stuff can do,” Beaver said.
Beaver worked for On-Site Safety, a company contracted by Noble Energy in De Beque, Colorado. Outfitted with a monitoring device and gas mask, Beaver found multiple dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide in just four months.
“We would open the lid, ‘roll the tank,’ and put our monitors inside,” Beaver said.
Beaver found levels of hydrogen sulfide exceeding 2,000 parts per million, which is triple the lethal level. Beaver says he wasn’t allowed to tell anyone, other than his supervisors, what the levels were.
“700 ppm will knock you out and kill you with the second breath,” Beaver said. “I was getting three times that. It’s a very well-kept secret.”
One time, while workers were on site, Beaver’s monitoring device read a level so high it maxed out his device.
“It just said ‘error, error,’ Beaver said. “I couldn’t get anyone’s attention, so I cracked my gas mask and yelled as loud as I could.”
In the effort, Beaver was stricken with a near-lethal dose of hydrogen sulfide.
“My right eye felt like it was about to explode it hurt so bad,” Beaver said. “I had a migraine for a week and a half, and I lost my voice for three days.”
The attack happened just one day before Lara recorded his deposition.
The dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide Beaver recorded in four months were never reported to the county or state, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission says.
Beaver says he would enter the numbers from his field log book into a master log book with On-Site Safety, which presumably went to Noble Energy.” (SOURCE: http://dallasdrilling.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/hydrogen-sulfide-may-have-killed-gas-drilling-worker/)
Additional News Video on this story http://www.krextv.com/news/around-the-region/NC5-INVESTIGATION-Deadly-Gas-Cover-Up-Revealed-126869973.html#commentform
Other Emissions & Ozone:
The risks to air quality are as bad as those to water quality. Even if pure water and sand were used for fracking, we’d be left with the radioactive and BTEX chemicals and methane regularly released into the the air as well as flared off during the normal processes of a gas well. These toxins come up with the gas.
“Gas production laces the air with toxic substances like sulfur dioxide and benzene, a volatile organic compound, or VOC, and emits pollutants that form smog, which blankets many Western gas fields. Ozone — the main component of smog — is created when VOCs and nitrogen oxide interact with sunlight. It can cause respiratory ailments, while VOCs themselves can be carcinogenic.
Because of the high pressure at which fracking fluid is injected into and flows back out of the ground, more pollution initially escapes from fracked wells than from conventional ones. Whether or not wells are fracked, pollutants leak out all along the production chain — from pipelines, storage tanks, diesel trucks and compressor stations. Tens of thousands of new gas wells have been drilled in recent years, and in production hubs, air pollution has simultaneously worsened. Ozone levels spiked above federal limits 26 times in rural Utah’s Uintah Basin in the first three months of 2011. There, and in Sublette County, Wyo., ozone levels have even exceeded those of famously smoggy Los Angeles.” (SOURCE: High Country News, EPA aims to clean up polluted air in Western gas fields, Sept 5, 2011)
The Front Range of Colorado is out of compliance with federal limits on ground-level ozone pollution, also known as smog. The area was designated as “nonattainment” in 2007.
Drilling in and around Weld County is a significant factor in the region’s smog pollution. Fracking and production continue to release more ozone forming compounds than cars and trucks along the Front Range, according to WildEarth Guardians. (SOURCE: Summit County Voice)
What else is emitted into the air? Fugitive/vented emissions (raw gas) and flashing emissions from condensate tanks contain:
How Ozone Affects Health:
“Breathing ground-level ozone can result in a number of health effects that are observed in broad segments of the population. Some of these effects include:
- Induction of respiratory symptoms
- Decrements in lung function
- Inflammation of airways
Respiratory symptoms can include:
- Throat irritation
- Pain, burning, or discomfort in the chest when taking a deep breath
- Chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath
In addition to these effects, evidence from observational studies strongly indicates that higher daily ozone concentrations are associated with increased asthma attacks, increased hospital admissions, increased daily mortality, and other markers of morbidity. The consistency and coherence of the evidence for effects upon asthmatics suggests that ozone can make asthma symptoms worse and can increase sensitivity to asthma triggers.
- Ozone is associated with increased mortality
- The absolute effect of ozone on mortality is considerably higher in older adults
- The ozone-mortality relationship is most prominent during the warm season
A relationship has also been observed between ozone and school absences in two studies.
In spite of the inconclusive nature of the epidemiologic literature, the repeated cycles of damage, inflammation, and repair in humans and the morphological findings from the animal toxicological studies suggest that it would be prudent to avoid repeated short-term exposures, particularly in young children, until more is known about the effects of long-term ozone exposure.“
(SOURCE: EPA, http://www.epa.gov/apti/ozonehealth/population.html)
A new study by the Centers for Disease Control finds that breast cancer rates have dropped in every county in Texas, but have increased in the six counties with the heaviest natural gas air emissions.
Click here to view the known negative health effects of these substances
Health Risks From the Fracking of Gas Wells, Catskill Mountainkeeper
An excellent video from the Endocrine Disruption Exchange detailing the health effects of gas drilling