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Not all emissions emanate from the point of drilling and many may originate from distances as far away from the well pad as the setback distance itself, or even beyond. For example, when measured at the same setback distance for all the processes in an active drilling operation in the West Virginia study, the benzene concentration fluctuated substantially due to the proximity of the source to the setback distance McCawley At the highest concentration, the source a flare was immediately adjacent to the samplers, even though the samplers were ft from the center of the well pad.

In this scenario, a setback does nothing to control the location or strength of the multiple possible sources at a well site and so it cannot be considered a control at all. Given the advantages of domestic natural gas development, the question arises as to whether the risks of hydraulic fracturing are acceptable, particularly in close proximity to the public. From a business standpoint, acceptable risk is generally considered to be injury or loss from an industrial process that is considered tolerable by a society in view of the political, social, and economic cost-benefit analysis.

From a scientific standpoint, the Precautionary Principle, which is endorsed by multiple national and international agencies, states that in cases of serious or irreversible threats to the health of humans or ecosystems, acknowledged scientific uncertainty should not be used as a reason to postpone preventive measures WHO EPA calculates both non-cancer and cancer risks from chemical exposure.

Non-cancer risk is calculated by comparing the estimated daily intake of the chemical over a specific time period with the reference dose for that chemical derived for a similar period of exposure. Cancer risk is the probability that an exposed individual will develop cancer due to that exposure by age For each chemical of concern, this value is calculated from the daily intake of the chemical from the site averaged over a lifetime, including a slope factor. In general, the U. EPA considers excess cancer risks that are below about 1 chance in 1,, to be so small as to be negligible, and risks above 1 in 10, to be sufficiently large that some sort of remediation is preferred.

The level of total cancer risk that is of concern, however, is a matter of personal, community, and regulatory judgment U. Our findings represent an important case study for the science of risk assessment and public policy decisions of risk management. In the United States, risk management strategies for gas development vary widely by state, including acceptance of large-scale development Texas, Pennsylvania, Colorado ; more cautious consideration with extended controls and protections Maryland ; and outright bans New York.

The question remains as to whether society will continue to accept the level of risk associated with shale gas development given its potential benefits. There are at least some additional actions to help to mitigate risk. The report by Wolverton highlighted the need for comprehensive planning prior to drilling. For detection of air pollution, air monitors could be placed at sensitive locations, and the sites connected to a central monitoring station by cellular phone or Wi-Fi to record air emission levels 24 hr a day.

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When the desired levels are exceeded, engineers would investigate to seek the source and report not only the cause, but also the steps taken to prevent a recurrence. Monitoring of all pertinent hazards could be considered for future regulations in conjunction with setbacks Ziemkiewicz et al. In addition, the standard method of measuring air quality, using periodic hr averages, does not accurately reflect the intensity, frequency or duration of meaningful exposure to the pollutants associated with the hydraulic fracturing process Brown et al.

Another factor to consider is well density. Risk calculations for environmental hazards are often based on measurements from a single source U. Simultaneous operations can introduce multiple hazards carrying additional risks Boquist Applying accurate and comprehensive measurement techniques, along with mitigation factors, could allow selection of a setback based on the level of control exercised and maintained rather than on arbitrary distances set by legislative compromise. Our present study has some limitations. There are over 20 shale plays in the lower 48 United States U.

EIA a ; by confining our study to 3 shale plays, the scope of data was narrowed. We also limited our study to well sites. Excluding pipelines limited data on explosions and evacuations Riordan Seville , and excluding compressor stations restricted air pollution results Shogren An inclusive study of the outcomes outlined in this study would include the wells and the potential contribution from necessary accompanying infrastructure.

Whenever possible, we evaluated information from multiple sources to determine consistency. Our air pollution analysis is by no means comprehensive. In the past several years, more data have emerged regarding air pollution related to hydraulic fracturing. Studies have varied in methods of collection and analysis; however, multiple studies show air pollutants at levels which raise health concerns Shonkoff et al. We focused on those studies which raised concern regarding benzene and H 2 S levels; a more thorough air pollution analysis would include nitrogen oxides, ozone, particulate matter, and the spectrum of VOCs Shonkoff et al.

In addition, benzene levels are characterized by high variability, which can result in inconsistencies within and between studies. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that air pollution varies widely, and there is an unmet need to study the episodic nature of air pollutant emissions. Our thermal modeling was based on an average gas well.

At each site, it is crucial to take into account the local geography, weather patterns, engineering specifics of each particular well, and nearby structures, which was not feasible for the purposes of this study. Current natural gas well setbacks in the Barnett Shale of Texas, the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania, and the Niobrara Shale of Colorado cannot be considered sufficient in all cases to protect public health and safety.

Based on historical evacuations and thermal modeling, people within these setback distances are potentially vulnerable to thermal injury during a well blowout. According to air measurements and vapor dispersion modeling, the same populations are susceptible to benzene and hydrogen sulfide exposure above health-based risk levels. Texas, Pennsylvania, and Colorado should consider adopting more generous setback distances, particularly in reference to vulnerable populations; however, distance is not an absolute measure of protection.

Unfortunately, there is no defined setback distance that assures safety. As mitigation technology advances, current setback distances may eventually be sufficient to protect the public. Unfortunately, current mitigations are not fail-safe, and each has its limitations U. Forest Service The results of our analysis based on three states suggest that assuming the threat posed to health originates from either the center of the drill pad or some small distance surrounding it requires reevaluation.

A combination of a reasonable setback with accompanying controls on all aspects of the process is the best method for reducing the potential threats to public health. We are most grateful for the comments and suggestions provided by J. He is also supported by grants from the U. Department of Energy. He was previously employed by the U. Department of Labor as an expert witness in a case involving drilling. He has also served as a consultant to the state of West Virginia on drilling issues. She previously received travel expenses for a lecture given in Mansfield, Texas, on the health and environmental impacts of fracking.

He serves on the board of directors of Western Colorado Congress, a nonprofit alliance for community empowerment to protect and enhance quality of life in western Colorado. The other author E. B declares she has no actual or potential competing financial interests. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Environ Health Perspect v. Environ Health Perspect. Published online Feb Anne C. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Telephone: E-mail: ude.

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Copyright notice. Publication of EHP lies in the public domain and is therefore without copyright. All text from EHP may be reprinted freely. Articles from EHP, especially the News section, may contain photographs or illustrations copyrighted by other commercial organizations or individuals that may not be used without obtaining prior approval from the holder of the copyright. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract Background: There is an increasing awareness of the multiple potential pathways leading to human health risks from hydraulic fracturing. Objectives: We attempted to determine whether legal setback distances between well-pad sites and the public are adequate in three shale plays.

Methods: We reviewed geography, current statutes and regulations, evacuations, thermal modeling, air pollution studies, and vapor cloud modeling within the Marcellus, Barnett, and Niobrara Shale Plays. Discussion: The evidence suggests that presently utilized setbacks may leave the public vulnerable to explosions, radiant heat, toxic gas clouds, and air pollution from hydraulic fracturing activities. Conclusions: Our results suggest that setbacks may not be sufficient to reduce potential threats to human health in areas where hydraulic fracturing occurs.

Methods We chose three of the largest and most heavily drilled areas of technically recoverable natural gas resources natural gas plays in the United States: the Barnett, Marcellus, and Niobrara U. Table 1 Analysis parameters, methods, and units of measurement.

Open in a separate window. Results Geography and Production The Barnett Shale, the largest natural gas play in Texas Airhart , is located in the north-central part of the state, extending over a total area of 5, mi 2. Policies and Oversight Natural gas well setbacks are determined at the state and, in some cases, municipality level the exception to this is when drilling occurs near public work projects, such as dams and critical structures; in these cases federal regulation applies Fry Table 2 Legal setback distances by state.

State Minimum setback distance from buildings without variance Texas ft Pennsylvania ft Colorado ft 1, ft high occupancy. Thermal Modeling Damage from well-pad fires is a function of time and energy flux intensity and, in general, damage increases the longer a fire burns. Air Pollution Within the Barnett Shale, air quality canister sampling identified 70 individual volatile organic compounds in the vicinity of gas wells and associated transport operation.

Figure 1. Figure 2. Emergency planners should anticipate both active and passive resistance to the planning process and develop strategies to manage these obstacles. Preimpact planning should address all hazards to which the community is exposed.

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Preimpact planning should elicit participation, commitment, and clearly defined agreement among all response organizations. Preimpact planning should be based upon accurate assumptions about the threat, typical human behavior in disasters, and likely support from external sources such as state and federal agencies. EOPs should identify the types of emergency response actions that are most likely to be appropriate, but encourage improvisation based on continuing emergency assessment.

Emergency planning should address the linkage of emergency response to disaster recovery and hazard mitigation. Preimpact planning should provide for training and evaluating the emergency response organization at all levels—individual, team, department, and community. Emergency planning should be recognized as a continuing process. Limitations Our present study has some limitations.

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Conclusion Current natural gas well setbacks in the Barnett Shale of Texas, the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania, and the Niobrara Shale of Colorado cannot be considered sufficient in all cases to protect public health and safety. Acknowledgments We are most grateful for the comments and suggestions provided by J. Footnotes M. References Airhart M. Caring for Vulnerable Populations. Making Hole — Drilling Technology. Most allowed back home after fracking-well blowout in eastern Ohio.

Columbus Dispatch , Columbus, OH. Evacuation lifted in Arlington as gas well situation resolves [news story]. Arlington Voice, Arlington, TX. Ring of Safety. Toxicological Profile for Benzene. Associated Press. The American Oil and Gas Reporter. Understanding exposure from natural gas drilling puts current air standards to the test. Rev Environ Health.

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Evaluation of impact of shale gas operations in the Barnett Shale region on volatile organic compounds in air and potential human health risks. Sci Total Environ. Flammability of methane, propane, and hydrogen gases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pennsylvania gas-well blowout forces evacuation [news story]. Wall Street Journal. New York, NY. Cause No. Docket No. Order No. Emissions Requirements for Oil and Gas Industry. State of Colorado. Colorado Geological Survey Rocktalk. Where is Marcellus Shale Located in Pennsylvania? Oil and gas wells and their integrity: implications for shale and unconventional resource exploitation.

Mar Pet Geol. NPR StateImpact.

News and Research

Study outlines policy strategy for unconventional development. Tulsa, OK. Mobile measurement of methane and hydrogen sulfide at natural gas production site fence lines in the Texas Barnett Shale. J Air Waste Manage Assoc. Health and environment risks from oil and gas development.


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Proximity to natural gas wells and reported health status: results of a household survey in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Environ Health Perspect 21 26, doi LNG fires: a review of experimental results, models and hazard prediction challenges. J Hazard Mater. Congressional Research Service: R NBC News Investigations. Report on Chevron well explosion in Greene County, Pa [news story]. East Stroudsburg, PA. Blowouts and Well Control Problems. Texas Administrative Code. Gas well explodes in Denton after lightning strike [news story]. Dallas Business Journal. Dallas, TX. Crews removing charred equipment, vehicles from well fire in Greene County [news story].

Pittsburgh, PA. Environmental public health dimensions of shale and tight gas development. Perinatal outcomes and unconventional natural gas operations in Southwest Pennsylvania. PLoS One 10 e, doi Local Government Code. Title 8. Acquisition, Sale, or Lease of Property. Subtitle A. Municipal Acquisition, Sale, or Lease of Property. Chapter Sale or Lease of Property by Municipalities. Lease of Oil, Gas, or Mineral Land. Relating to the exclusive jurisdiction of this state to regulate oil and gas operations in this state and the express preemption of local regulation of those operations.

Texas H. Department of Labor. Safety and Health Topics: Hydrogen Sulfide. DOT U. EIA U. Review of Emerging Resources: U. Shale Gas and Shale Oil Plays. Natural Gas. EPA U. Fed Reg 77 Oil and Natural Gas Sector Leaks. Conducting a Human Health Risk Assessment. HH: Risk Characterization. Summary of the Clean Air Act. Fire Administration. Business of Government Hour. Essentials of Healthy Living. Executive Leaders Radio. Fed Access. Federal Executive Forum. Federal Tech Talk. Foodie and the Beast. For Your Benefit.

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