There is no end to doomsday prophesying when it comes to shale gas and the Clean Air Council is right there at the front of the pack crying wolf, but a recent Pennsylvania DEP report shows the CAC was off by a factor of 17 to 1.
Earlier this year the Heinz Endowments funded Clean Air Council (CAC) issued a news release claiming “The Barto Compressor Station in Penn Township, Lycoming County is creating pollution concentrations nearly three times the amount allowed under the federal health-based air quality standards.” It was a highly flawed study, as Energy In Depth noted at the time, and one based on predictions rather than real-time results, which seems to a common trick employed by some environmentalists these days when the simple facts don’t suit their desired outcomes.
Nonetheless, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) investigated, conducting actual air-quality field testing to assess the veracity of the CAC modeling. DEP found “no emission levels of nitrogen dioxide that would pose a health concern” providing yet another example of the anti-fracking industry crying wolf.
A little background on the CAC is helpful. I wrote about them back in April of last year, pointing out they are funded by the Heinz Endowments, which is spending millions of dollars every year funding every anti-fracking initiative imaginable, from PennEnvironment’s sloppy advocacy to the Delaware Riverkeeper’s talks with the river (which mostly consist of the river apparently whispering in the Riverkeeper’s ear that she engage in one more tirade against shale gas development in any form). The CAC also receives money from the Energy Foundation, which is itself funded by dark money funneled through the Sea Change Foundation. It is run by a fellow named Joseph Minott, who appears to yet another individual from a well-off family who is pre-occupied with environmental issues as a way to demonstrate his social conscience.
The CAC shows up at every DEP hearing on a natural gas compressor, speculating about potential impacts on air quality and decided to take it up a notch in the case of the Barto Compressor Station, probably because it had an audience of fellow travelers in Northeast Pennsylvania who it knew would amplify its sputtering. It arranged for a study that modeled what it thought (hoped?) might happen to air quality in the vicinity and then presented the report as if the predictions were reality. But, they weren’t and DEP knew it. It also knew the methodology was flawed.
While CAC hawked its report, some of the usual suspects also paraded it around suggesting it demonstrated air pollution caused by natural gas development. Here are two of the wolf cries, one from the CAC and another from a supporter:
“Recent modeling results show that the compressor station, which pressurizes natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale to achieve the desired flow along pipelines, is on its own causing nitrogen dioxide pollution 278 percent over the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). The modeling shows that exceedances can be measured a mile away from the station. Emission of oxides of nitrogen must be reduced by up to 76 percent in order to stay below unhealthful levels.” – CAC News Release, January, 2013
“The Clean Air Council has conducted a study of the Barto Compression Station in Penn Township, Lycoming County. The study finds the station is is creating pollution concentrations nearly three times the amount allowed under the federal health-based air quality standards.” – Shaleshock Media, January, 2013
While the CAC presented its speculations as if they were fact, the DEP decided to sample actual air quality conducting four days of unannounced tests in the vicinity to assess whether the CAC results were valid. They were not and here are the key results:
Due to concerns raised by the Clean Air Council (CAC), the department conducted an air sampling effort to measure nitrogen dioxide levels near the compressor station during the week of July 22, 2013.
DEP used a mobile laboratory and located its equipment within one half mile downwind of the station at two different locations. During the sampling periods, the compressor station was operating at normal capacity and the operator was not contacted about the sampling effort until after its completion.
Results of sampling performed over a four-day period demonstrated that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide were minimal, and well below national ambient air quality standards.
The department operates permanent nitrogen dioxide monitors downwind of other compressor stations in Pennsylvania, and those monitors are also measuring levels of this pollutant that are well below the national ambient air quality standard.
DEP has also conducted three short-term ambient air quality monitoring studies in drilling regions of the state, all of which detected no levels of any pollutant that would violate federal ambient air quality standards or pose a health concern. – DEP News Release, August 29, 2013
You can read the full report here, but here are the numbers:
Over the four-day sampling period, all measured 1-hour average NO2 concentrations were well below the 1-hour National Ambient Air Quality Standard for NO2 of 100 parts per billion (ppb)(Table 1). The maximum 1-hour average NO2 concentration measured during the sampling period was 5.9 parts per billion (ppb) and the maximum 5-minute average NO2 was 20.4 ppb.
DEP did not detect ambient NO2 average concentrations greater than the 1-hour NO2 NAAQS. This is consistent with 1-hour NO2 concentrations measured at the DEP Towanda air-monitoring site in neighboring Bradford County. The Towanda site was purposefully sited to measure the impacts of the Marcellus industry, including compressor stations. In fact, the Towanda site is located among more than 25 compressor stations within a 20-mile radius. Monthly average NO2 measurements at the Towanda site have been 2.2 to 4.3 ppb.
So, when all is said and done, the CAC report amounts to absolutely nothing – a poorly designed model that didn’t even come close to reality. It predicted maximum NO2 levels of 343% of standard (278% above standard), but testing demonstrated they were actually 20.4% of standard. There’s nothing like being off by a factor of 17 to 1 for crying wolf, unless you’re one of those folks who appear every now and then waiting for a starship to land and pick them up on doomsday. Then again, the CAC and so much of the anti-fracking industry are like that aren’t they?