Ozone is Produced by Reactions of Organic Compounds Released During Marcellus Shale Gas Extraction Activities with Sunlight and Oxides of Nitrogen
By: Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH – CHEC Director and Principal Investigator
Story Inspired by FracTracker work of Kathleen Tyner
I was searching over new snapshots on the FracTracker database and noticed one done by Kathleen Tyner. Her snapshot (below) shows Marcellus Wells drilled in West Virginia overlaid with locations of ozone monitoring devices placed by WV DEP personnel for monitoring this criteria air pollutant under the Clean Air Act.
Analysis of this snapshot reveals only 6 monitoring locations within the vast geographic area of West Virginia where Marcellus Shale gas extraction operations exist.
West Virginia is characterized by some of the highest elevation peaks and ridges in the Appalachian range, an area where weather inversions can be frequent and can hold air pollutants in valley areas for days if not weeks. If ozone and other air contaminants are trapped in these valleys, over time concentrations of these pollutants can build up without being cleared by prevailing winds. Without proper placement of ozone monitors (and other types of monitors for other criteria pollutants generated) in these characteristic areas no one will be able to pickup ozone concentrations in air. Ozone is formed by the reaction of organic chemicals volatilized into air from Marcellus Shale gas extraction activities, including:
- diesel exhaust [truck traffic and running compressors],
- wastewater impoundments,
- condenser stations,
- pipeline leaks,
- cryogenic plants,
- compressor stations,
- mercaptan injection stations,
- chemical plants – existing oxides of nitrogen from coal powered electrical generation facilities and other industrial operations (see the figure below), and
Additionally, over large geographic areas of the state there are very few ozone monitors shown which could pick up ground level ozone as it is advectively transported by wind over large areas of the state.
Ozone is a criteria air pollutant that has been associated with a variety of health problems, including:
- airway irritation,
- pain when taking a deep breath,
- wheezing and breathing difficulties during exercise or outdoor activities,
- inflammation, which is much like a sunburn on the skin,
- aggravation of asthma,
- increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis, and
- permanent lung damage with repeated exposures.
Given the importance of ozone to human health outcomes and its ability to also affect plants, it is vital to understand ozone concentrations and exposure over space and time.
West Virginia’s Environmental Policies
The State of West Virginia needs to reevaluate its environmental policies in light of the explosion of activity in the Marcellus gas fields. Significant funding should be provided to state environmental enforcement agencies to perform research into:
- Where ozone effects might be pronounced due to topographic variation;
- Understanding where ozone monitors should be placed to be able to predict ozone exposure reliably for each sub-regions populations (especially children); and
- Determining the number of additional ozone air monitoring stations for proper statistical analysis and spatial modeling.
Additionally, the placement of Marcellus Shale wells is ongoing and accelerating. Since over the next 25 years it is reasonable to assume that there could be up to 100,000 Marcellus shale wells in West Virginia – as well as additional associated infrastructure including stripping and refining stations, compressor stations and pipelines – the State of West Virginia needs to set aside significant funding to ensure that ozone monitoring is ongoing. This funding should also ensure that data generated are analyzed and communicated to the public using proper and accurate risk communication language with numerous outlets so all citizens are informed of this air hazard regularly. Finally, since the Marcellus Shale gas industry will be moving throughout the state over time – developing wells and infrastructure as needed -any state program needs to have enough flexibility to move with the industry. Better yet, the state should require planning documents from industry. This can allow it to predict where the industry will move next so that baseline, pre-extraction air levels of ozone and other air contaminants generated in this process can be compared to the levels generated post-production