Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Study: Risky air pollution exists at gas well sites even when fracking isn't happening

A set of chemicals called non-methane hydrocarbons, or NMHCs, is found in the air near gas drilling and hydraulic-fracturing sites even when fracking isn't being used, a study has concluded. The peer-reviewed study, published in Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, found more than 50 NMHCs within a mile of gas wells in Colorado, 35 of which affect the brain and nervous system, Lisa Song of Inside Climate News reports. Some NMHCs were at high enough levels to potentially harm fetuses. The authors say no other study of this kind has even been done. (Photo by Ivy Brashear: fracking of gas well with nitrogen in Fourseam, Ky., in 2010)

Study authors say the chemical likely comes from a mix of raw gas that's vented from wells and emissions from industrial equipment used during the fracking process. Typically, dozens of trucks containing chemicals are needed to frack a well. Researchers took weekly air samples at a site within a mile of 130 gas wells in Garfield County, Colorado. They detected the chemicals between July 2010 and October 2011, including 44 chemicals that have been shown to affect health. The highest concentrations were measured after new wells were drilled, but concentrations didn't increase as wells were fracked, Song reports.

Lack of funding and access to drilling sites hindered researchers' ability to definitively link gas fields to air pollutants, but because the research was conducted in an area with few people and roads, "natural gas drilling would be the first thing anyone would look at," study author Carol Kwiatkowski said. She said the study shows a need for more research in all stages of gas production. (Read more)

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