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November 30, 2011

Bay foundation: Video shows fracking sites polluting air

Natural gas wells and related processing sites in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia are spewing "invisible" plumes of air pollution, according to an investigation by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

The Annapolis-based environmental group hired an infrared videographer to check 15 natural gas drilling and compressor sites in the Marcellus shale region of the three states.  The special camera picked up the heat signature of gases billowing into the air from 11 of the sites, or nearly three out of four.

Robert Howarth, an ecologist at Cornell University in New York, said the gases being released in the video most likely contained methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and other other hydrocarbons, including possibly benzene and toluene.

“This would certainly contribute to smog, ozone… and it’s putting out carcinogenic substances," Howarth told the foundation, according to a post by Tom Pelton on CBF's blog Bay Daily.  “I would not want to be breathing the air downstream of those rigs.”

Howarth co-authored a study last year that estimated hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in Marcellus shale formations allows 4 to 8 percent of the methane to escape into the atmosphere, where it contributes to global warming. 

The foundation contended in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency that its video shows air pollution from hydraulic fracturing is not being adequately controlled and a new rule EPA is considering to limit methane emissions does not go far enough.

Harry Campbell, the foundation's senior scientist in Pennsylvania, said in Pelton's blog post that the video provides new evidence of the need for a comprehensive federal study of the human health and environmental impacts of drilling in the Marcellus shale.  CBF has petitioned the White House Council on Environmental Quality and EPA for a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, as the study is known.  To date, it has received no response..

Maryland has imposed a de facto moratorium on hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," for gas in western Maryland's Marcellus shale deposits until it completes a three-year study of the potential environmental impacts and needed controls.  Drilling has taken off in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, though, and controversy has swirled over its impact on neighboring residents, on drinking water wells and streams.

One of the sites filmed is a natural gas processing center in the town of Accident in Garrett County, MD. Though not directly related to the debate over hydraulic fracturing, the compressor station is often mentioned by gas industry supporters as an example of the industry's benign environmental footprint.  Pelton reports that the facility reported to the Maryland Department of the Environment that it released 1,038 tons of methane in 2010, more than double the 483 tons of methane it reported releasing in 2009.

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 6:30 AM | | Comments (7)


So a notoriously liberal environmental group hires a sercret "infrared" videographer to do it's bidding and you add comments from a known environmental activist "scientist" (Who wears pins for "" when he speaks) should be taken as gospel? Hardly!

Imagine the outrage that environmentalists would have if a climate change skeptic scientist were wearing a BP pin.

These videos show exactly what would be expected of an INFRARED video of the exhaust from a combustion process. THEY SHOW HOT GASSES. What else would anyone expect to see. Infrared show heat! To make a blanket claim that these exhaust gasses are primarily Methane is a blatent lie. ANd none of these videos have anything to do with hydraulic fracturing operations.

If you want the true story then get a balanced view from a scientist who has no agenda either pro or anti drilling.

Howarth demonstrates his complete ignorance of the process by saying that the industry "maintains pressure in their gas storage vessels by releasing methane into the atmosphere. Nobody STORES natural gas in vessels. you could never store enough in a pressure vessel to be economically useful. the only way to store natural gas in a vessel is to liquify it, which requires a huge multi-billion dollar plant.


I wonder what sort of images the infrared camera would have recorded if it were focused on the tailpipe of the truck the cameraman drove to the compressor site? Compressor engines burn hydrocarbons, combustion releases exhaust, exhaust contains a number of things, but it may not be considered "pollution" under current regulations. Certainly, we should measure emissions from natural gas development and sort out the costs and benefits of natural gas production. But claiming that compressor exhaust is "pollution" because of an infrared image sounds like another example of Howarth speaking before he has his facts straight.

bull thats exaust pipes u idiots lol.. from compressors and hot oil units. you cant just realease gas into the atmosphere unless you want to blow the place up... i know i build these sites ...think about it

Guys, each gas has distinctive IR spectra. If you guys have taken any organic chemistry in college, you will know that C-H bonds vibrate at a different frequency from O-H bonds, and aliphatic ROH alcohols have a shifted hydroxyl frequency from HOH (water).

You can pick up gas signatures from IR this way. You need a bit of data processing though.

If gas fracking was safe the industry would not have had Dick Cheney jam in the so called Halliburton Loophole that prevents citizens from suing under the clean water act, the safe drinking water act, and the clean air act.

Regardless of who filmed the gas leaking the film is the real. And of course BP has climate scientists that distort the science (fact)s. I myself have seen gas wafting up from frackling wells in PA just up the road from my home in Maryland.

Since it is now known that this fracked gas is headed for export to Japan (Japan just bought the Samson leases in western MD) any claims by anyone that this gas is for national energy security are full of BS and it is truly disgusting that our water and air resources in relatively clean western Maryland are under threat to enable profits for Texas gas companies. It appears the plans of industry are to treat us as bad as they treat 3rd world countries.
Our vital tourism industry in western MD is the goose that lays our golden eggs, and to think that this will all be sacrificed for 10-15 years of gas headed overseas is not only sick but insane. As west va. and PA get ruined just think of how valuable a PROTECTED maryland will become. The headwaters of Potomac and Youghiogheny start in western MD, if they get polluted the impact will affect millilons.

Similar video was recorded by WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh of a compressor station ourside of Carmichaels, Greene County, PA. Politics has nothing to do with it. Even though we have the worst air quality in PA, the site is still spewing aromatic hydrocarbons 24/7and nearby residents are stuck in homes they cannot sell, still being sickened by the fumes. PADEP continues to look the other way,

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About the bloggers
Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.

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