Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the name of an organization reviewing the study.
An air-monitoring study aimed at determining any health risks from a natural gas well site near the Fort Cherry School District campus found gas development there does not pose acute or chronic health concerns, and showed no air-quality impacts that would cause potential health concerns.
The two-year study by Gradient Corp., a Massachusetts environmental and risk science consulting firm, was based on continuous sampling from an unconventional Marcellus Shale well site near the high school and elementary school campus.
The project monitored air quality through the development cycle of a six-well pad, from pad construction through each phase of operation and more than a year of production of natural gas and natural gas liquids.
Gradient collected data from December 2016 to October 2018 at three sites near the Yonker well pad in Mt. Pleasant Township, using practices recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The firm monitored for particulate matter and volatile organic compounds, and results showed PM2.5 and VOC concentrations were consistently below health-based air comparison values.
According to Gradient’s data, measured PM2.5 and VOC concentrations do not provide evidence of elevated long-term average concentrations compared to other DEP regional data in Washington County that are farther from natural gas development.
Range Resources commissioned the study – which, it believes, is the first of its kind – and the report is posted on the company’s website.
In a statement, Range said, “Air quality effects of our operations have long been a priority, and we monitored a well site near a school campus to verify that our engineering and operations were conducted to minimize impacts and to be transparent and responsive to students, parents and those in the community. This comprehensive third-party expert analysis aligns with other reports conducted by regulatory agencies and the school district, all of which have definitively shown that natural gas development does not create any chronic or acute health concerns.”
Michael Mackin, director of external affairs for Range, said the data collected also provides a cumulative look at potential air and health impacts from natural gas wells that have been hydraulically fractured and in production, in some cases, for more than a decade because of the Yonker well site’s proximity to other natural gas wells and infrastructure.
“While the goal was to monitor a well site near the school campus, the prevailing winds provided the ability to collect cumulative analysis from an area that has seen Marcellus development for about 15 years,” Mackin said.
About 95 percent of Mt. Pleasant Township is under lease agreement. There are more than 40 additional unconventional natural gas well pad sites within five miles of the Yonker well pad site, totaling more than 160 active unconventional natural gas wells.
The company noted that last year, the Department of Environmental Protection released an air quality analysis near sites in Washington County indicating that natural gas development there poses little public health or air quality risk.
But, organizations including Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, which is reviewing the study, contend there is a link between shale gas facilities and health-related issues.
Raina Rippel, director of EHP, said, “What we have observed and learned from countless peer-reviewed studies both in Pennsylvania and nationwide paints a different picture.”
Washington County is the second largest natural gas producing county in the state.