Recap of the GSPH Shale Gas Conference (Afternoon)


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If you were unable to attend the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s all day conference, Health Effects of Shale Gas Extraction: What is known, and what can we predict?, here is a recap of the afternoon sessions for you provided by CHEC’s staff.
Program | Morning Summary | Afternoon Summary (below) | Presentation Videos | Survey Results

“Air Quality Monitoring Strategies”

Robert Field, PhD, a research scientist at the University of Wyoming’s Department of Atmospheric Science, spoke about factors leading to the creation of wintertime ozone in Sublette County, Wyoming. The sudden appearance of the phenomenon was surprising to residents, since ozone is usually an urban problem during the summertime. Dr. Field examined the link between the ozone production and the natural gas industry in the state.

The conditions to create ozone are known, and include the presence of ozone precursors, sunlight, and other atmospheric conditions. Rural Wyoming made for a convenient laboratory to determine the scope of the contribution of the gas industry, because unlike Pennsylvania, it was not already present in the air from other industrial activities. Dr. Field indicated that the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has already been using the information to predict days favorable to the creation of ozone, and has even worked to prevent it by asking operators to limit their polluting activities on those days.

Responding to questions from the audience, Dr. Field indicated that environmental conditions in Pennsylvania are less favorable for wintertime ozone in particular, although ozone in the summer remains a concern.

“Addressing Combined Effects of Air Pollution and Social Stressors Exposures on Health in Communities Affected by Natural Gas Fracturing”

Jane Clougherty, MSc, ScD, a new faculty member of the University of Pittsbrugh’s Graduate School of Public Health, presented Friday on her previous work concerning air monitoring in New York City and the culmination of indirect impacts to various users. Dr. Clougherty’s work focused on air pollution monitoring schemes, needs and assumptions of air monitoring for multiple-source emissions.

Passive ambient air monitoring can produce powerful data if strong variability is present, as well as numerous monitoring locations. The focus of her talk was not to demonstrate how monitoring could be implemented in or around gas extraction sites, but was to provide a case study to encompass impacts across communities and regions and how stress can relate to these various levels. Indirect or non-primary effects, social stressors, and potentially synergistic social-environmental effects, can certainly apply to the Marcellus Shale boom. Health research has indicated that chronic stress can affect the immune, endocrine, and respiratory systems, and even susceptibility to the common cold. Dr. Clougherty implied very well that the indirect effects of a new industry – such as natural gas extraction – can among other impacts, lead to stressed social interactions. These types of interactions include increases in:
  • heavy construction,
  • truck and vehicular traffic,
  • noise,
  • services demanded, and
  • potential changes in community coercion and composition.

Her research and others have suggested that social stressors combined with pollution exposures may act synergistically by altering an individual’s susceptibility.

Dr. Clougherty proposed that in addressing impacts such as those posed by this industry, we must look at all of the affected users. Her examples included the end users in the New York City limits. City officials have proposed regulations to ban the use of lower quality heating fuels, stating that just 1 percent of NYC buildings account for about 87 percent of the pollution attributed to the combustion of these oils. Regulations would encourage cleaner burning sources, such as natural gas. This could positively affect pollution levels in these areas, specifically Manhattan, though upfront costs remain an issue. This example demonstrates a positive end user effect for the people of NYC, that Dr. Clougherty claims must be added to the impacts equation. However, she also stresses this is not panacea for energy consumption; renewable energy should be the focus.

Understanding social-environmental interactions is a complex and entangled field of study. It is crucial that researchers like Dr. Clougherty are working on these issues and are asking provocative questions while proposing multi-factorial grand perspectives.

“Short-Term Air Quality Impacts from Marcellus Shale Operations in Southwest PA”

Chief of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (PA DEP) Air Quality Monitoring Division, Nick Lazor, addressed the Department’s efforts to conduct short term air quality sampling near Marcellus Shale drilling operations. The PA DEP sampled five counties in Southwestern PA using an array of gas chromatography and mass and infrared spectroscopy instruments to assess concentrations of ambient (outdoor) air target pollutants.

Preliminary data indicates methane, propane, ethane, and benzene were present at Marcellus Shale compressor sites. Additionally, methyl-mercaptan was detected above odor threshold, while carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and ozone were not detected above National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The PA DEP recognizes the importance of this initiative and plans to evaluate further monitoring efforts after a comparative analysis between all five sites has been concluded.

“Use of Health Impact Assessment to Help Inform Decision Making Regarding Natural Gas Drilling Permits in Colorado” (Roxana Witter, MD, MSPH; John Adgate, PhD; and Jim Rada)

Previously, Samantha Malone wrote a blog post about their presentations after attending the American Public Health Association conference in Denver, CO this year. Check it out!

“Spatial Data Infrastructure for Evaluating the Health Impact of Gas Well Drilling in North Texas”

David Sterling, PhD, CIH is the Director or the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Saint Louis University School of Public Health. Dr. Sterling knows Texas because he is from Texas and there are issues in Fort Worth, Texas due to the development of the Barnett Shale. Over-development has resulted in close proximity of drilling and wells to homes, elementary schools, other buildings, and other populated locations. Conducting retrospective (after-the-fact) exposure analyses on these types of locations can provide starting points for hypotheses.

Drilling in the Barnett Shale has occurred since the 1970s, and in densely populated areas, including Denton, Tarrant, and Johnson counties since 1999. There are over 16,000 wells in these counties, 26,000 wells in the Barnett shale and other shales, and 20,000 permitted wells. Current issues involve encroaching proximity. High benzene levels have been measured in Dish, TX, and other locations such as on an organic goat farm.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) maintains monitoring website for air emissions but more information and the development of a spatial data infrastructure is necessary for air and hydro (water) models. The data collection also needs to be reported, made visual, and have transparency. One of the many research goals should be to connect this data with health outcomes. Data challenges in the Barnett region include gathering good population estimates, information on how many wells are contaminated, and getting hold of malleable data. And finally, Dr. Sterling emphasized the need for this information to be available for decision makers.

“Research Methods and Results of the Baseline Socioeconomic Study of the Impact of Marcellus in Pennsylvania”

Teri Ooms is the Executive Director of The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development. Ms. Ooms recently undertook a project to assess the current social and economic conditions relating to gas well development in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania, with the goal of obtaining baseline data for future longitudinal assessment of subsequent community changes that occur in Appalachian counties. The study consisted of a survey of Marcellus residents and interviews with key informants (elected and appointed leaders, representatives of human service and educational agencies, and civic organizations) in five Pennsylvania counties (Lackawanna, Luzerne, Westmoreland, Greene, and Susquehanna) and five counties in other shale-rich states (Texas and Arkansas). This study was conducted to gather and assess the perceptions of current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts associated with large scale natural gas development.

Of the many study results that Ms. Ooms discussed, people living in the Marcellus region generally knew very little about the nature and development of the industry. Few people actually sought out objective information from authoritative sources. Many felt that as a result of the industry coming into PA, the quality of their natural environment and drinking water would worsen, while employment options and training would improve. Ms. Ooms noted there was tension within communities because of varying lease and royalty rates and tension when there is a separation between land ownership and mineral rights (called a “split estate”). Most participants supported a severance tax in PA, and almost all of them agreed that if a severance tax is enacted, some of the money should be allocated for local government expenses.

Results from Texas and Arkansas both indicated that people felt there were strong economic benefits to drilling. The separation of land and mineral rights has also created tension in those states. Participants have seen education programs change to help local people obtain industry jobs. Other problems identified by those participants are similar to those highlighted by PA participants. You can find out more about the Institute and its study here.

“How Should We Think About the Economic Consequences of Shale Gas Drilling?”

Susan Christopherson, PhD is an economic geographer whose research and teaching focus on economic development, urban labor markets, and location patterns in service industries, particularly the media industries. According to Dr. Christopherson’s presentation, the southern tier of New York state is already experiencing the impact of the Marcellus Shale boom. Truck traffic has increased and land values are rising, even though drilling is located in Pennsylvania and still excluded from New York. Money is coming into these areas and those surrounding areas with active drilling, but certain questions need to be answered, including: “What is the cost? For what period? What jobs will be created? What are the long-term outcomes?”

In order to appropriately address these questions, the factors that influence the pace and scale of drilling must be determined. These can include transportation costs, industry competition, regulatory capacity and requirements, taxes, and shortages. Current policy is projecting a boom and bust cycle from the shale gas drilling industry. The drilling cycle is “front-end” loaded, to drill as quickly as possible while Pennsylvania does not have a severance tax. Fifty percent of the total gas produced by a well is extracted within the first year, and production beyond five years is uncertain. The repetitive short-term process of drilling multiple wells must be considered, which means the majority of jobs are only temporary. Also, Dr. Christopherson advised analyzing the spending patterns for landowners who have received lease money. Large sums, rather than multiple disbursements, have the potential to be splurged.

The total cost to the communities has not been fully realized. Funding for schools and roads are currently the only area where there is any leverage from established policy. The boom and bust cycle will strain local economic systems. After the bust, communities are left with too many schools, police, teachers, and services without a population and funds to support them. Responsible economic development comes from population growth, income growth, and economic diversity. In gas-producing counties, incomes actually grow more slowly. Evidence from western states shows less economic diversity and decreased ability for alternative investments in counties with drilling. On the other hand, economies in Texas grow when drilling and gas production expands in other states, because Texas is center for executive operations of the natural gas industry and therefore has the highest paying jobs. Plans to prevent accelerated, short-term production cycles need to be proposed. Policy does matter! Communities need to be savvy to industry activity and plans. Local economies need to capture all available revenues, ensure remediation, and set up tax systems.

Conversation with participants about the gaps in the science and future directions from the afternoon speakers

Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH was the moderator for the afternoon sessions. Due to time restrictions, audience questions and research gaps are being requested in a follow up survey. Would you like to contribute your own comments about the conference? If so, fill out this survey. [link removed]

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