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Air Concentrations of Volatile Compounds Near Oil and Gas Production: A Community-Based Exploratory Study
Environmental Health (2014)
  • Gregg P Macey, Brooklyn Law School

Background: Horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and other drilling and well stimulation technologies are now used widely in the United States and increasingly in other countries. They enable increases in oil and gas production, but there has been inadequate attention to human health impacts. Air quality near oil and gas operations is an underexplored human health concern for five reasons: (1) prior focus on threats to water quality; (2) an evolving understanding of contributions of certain oil and gas production processes to air quality; (3) limited state air quality monitoring networks; (4) significant variability in air emissions and concentrations; and (5) air quality research that misses impacts important to residents. Preliminary research suggests that volatile compounds, including hazardous air pollutants, are of potential concern. This study differs from prior research in its use of a community-based process to identify sampling locations. Through this approach, we determine concentrations of volatile compounds in air near operations that reflect community concerns and point to the need for more fine-grained and frequent monitoring at points along the production life cycle.

Methods: Grab and passive air samples were collected by trained volunteers at locations identified through systematic observation of industrial operations and air impacts over the course of resident daily routines. A total of 75 volatile organics were measured using EPA Method TO-15 or TO-3 by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Formaldehyde levels were determined using UMEx 100 Passive Samplers.

Results: Levels of eight volatile chemicals exceeded federal guidelines under several operational circumstances. Benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrogen sulfide were the most common compounds to exceed acute and other health-based risk levels.

Conclusions: Air concentrations of potentially dangerous compounds and chemical mixtures are frequently present near oil and gas production sites. Community-based research can provide an important supplement to state air quality monitoring programs.

Publication Date
Citation Information
Gregg P Macey. "Air Concentrations of Volatile Compounds Near Oil and Gas Production: A Community-Based Exploratory Study" Environmental Health Vol. 13 (2014)
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