Prove your humanity

We Helped Residents Near a Fracking Site Test Their Air Quality. Here’s What We Found.

Our partners at PublicSource paid a visit to residents in Penn Township to put some numbers to how the community’s first shale gas wells are impacting their air quality. (Photo: Connor Mulvaney / PublicSource)

James Moore had grown so accustomed to the sound of shale drilling that when it stopped, it weirded him out.

“When it was quiet, the crickets were not loud enough” to make up for the absence of noise from drilling, he said. “I actually couldn’t sleep without the noise.”

Moore lives in a bright green and yellow house—dubbed the “John Deere” house by neighbors—about 500 feet from Penn Township’s first shale gas wells. His house, which he rents, is closest to the gas well pad.

The pad is relatively quiet now. For about a year, two wells there have been feeding into a pipeline that jets natural gas to Pittsburgh. But in 2015, Apex Energy was drilling and fracking those wells. Trucks, rigs and incinerators stampeded the site.

Adding to the noise issue, Moore suspected the gas site was emitting pollution that he couldn’t see, hear or feel.

Comic by Em Demarco / PublicSource

Comic by Em Demarco / PublicSource

Because he’s the closest person living to the pad, Moore was concerned about the exposure, so he decided to participate in PublicSource’s air quality monitoring project. Four other residents living fewer than 3,000 feet from Quest Realty Central Pad 7 joined him.

In August 2015, researchers at the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Project (EHP) and I set up the project in the township, a rural suburb about 20 miles east of Pittsburgh. Over about two months, we took air quality measurements at the participants’ homes.

One of our goals was to track short-term peaks of air pollution. We looked for fine particulate matter—called PM 2.5, which can release from various sources at gas sites, including diesel trucks and other machinery.

Natural gas operations can have episodic spikes in emissions that last for a few minutes or hours. Federal and state standards for PM 2.5 are based on 24-hour averages and can miss these short-term spikes or “peaks” because the data gets averaged out, said David Brown, EHP’s lead toxicologist. Studies have shown that short-term exposure to increases of PM 2.5 can cause health issues.

EHP researchers found that peaks of PM 2.5 at all five houses were high enough to potentially cause upper respiratory problems in sensitive populations including children, the elderly and people with asthma.

Continue reading this story at PublicSource »


This story comes from PublicSource, a nonprofit digital-first news organization that delivers public-service reporting and analysis in the Pittsburgh region.