FutureStructure

Pennsylvania Implements Air Quality Sensors in Fracking Counties

In response to citizens concerns over lower air quality because of the pollutants released during the drilling process, the Department of Environmental Protection will monitor air quality in rural Pennsylvania.

by Elizabeth Behrman, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review / April 28, 2016
The Marcellus Shale Gas Well in western Penn. Flickr/WCN 24/7

(TNS) -- With the help of a federal grant, the state Department of Environmental Protection plans to ramp up its efforts to monitor air quality near natural gas compressors in rural parts of the state.

Ten sensors that monitor fine particulate matter — or soot — will be installed in eight counties, including in Fayette and Indiana, the department announced Wednesday. The sensors will gather much-needed data in “under-monitored” areas about the quantity of pollutants released into the air. Each of the eight counties is home to fracking sites.

“We simply don't have data on air quality in these areas,” said DEP Secretary John Quigley in a statement. “We need that data and monitoring capability to help us understand whether or not there are risks or impacts to public health from current air quality in these areas.”

Fracking and drilling for natural gas releases lots of pollutants into the air, said Thaddeus Popovich, a Franklin Park resident and co-founder of Allegheny County Clean Air Now. Pollutants are released during the drilling process and by the diesel vehicles coming and going from the drilling sites.

The new monitors from the DEP show the state is paying attention to rural areas that previously “have been forgotten,” Popovich said.

Joseph Otis Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council in Philadelphia, said he hopes the DEP will expand the monitoring program.

“As Pennsylvania's natural gas industry has spread over the past several years, our information-gathering has not always kept pace,” he said in a statement. “Shalefield residents have often been left in the dark about the quality of the air they breathe and, without adequate data, are unable to take action when they suspect air pollution is harming their health.”

Besides Fayette and Indiana counties, monitors will also be installed this year in Lycoming, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties, according to the DEP. Monitors will be installed inClarion, Jefferson and McKean counties by late 2017.

The exact locations of the monitors in Indiana and Fayette have not been finalized, a DEP spokesman said. The approximate $1.5 million expansion of the air monitoring network will be paid for, in part, by an Environmental Protection Agency grant.

The sensors will supplement DEP's existing network of 27 monitors. The Allegheny County Health Department also operates eight samplers and Philadelphia Air Management Services operates seven. The DEP recently installed sensors in Holbrook in Greene County and Towanda in Bradford County.

The data collected will be available to the public on the DEP and EPA websites.

©2016 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.