Huan Li: Study of air pollution caused by fracking in Pennsylvania details human


PM pollution has known negative health effects including cardiovascular disease, chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD) and stroke, especially among vulnerable populations like pregnant women, infants and the elderly.

With that in mind, Elaine L. Hill of the University of Rochester Department of Public Health Sciences, Neha Khanna and Ruohao Zhang of Binghamton University Department of Economics, Alan J. Krupnick of Resource for Future, Daniel M. Sullivan of the J.P. Morgan Chase Institute and I undertook a study to measure the changes in PM pollution caused by the tremendous growth of the shale gas industry in Pennsylvania.

We specifically focused on Pennsylvania because it overlays the Marcellus shale formation, the largest natural gas field and producer of shale gas in the United States.

To detect the changes in PM pollution caused by well preparation and gas production activities in Pennsylvania, we took advantage of NASA’s satellite-based measurement of aerosol optical depth (AOD), which measures how light is scattered in a vertical column of air from the ground to the satellite sensors every day and is known to be a reliable way to measure ground PM.

The largest pollution is generated when a well is being drilled and fracked and in the first one to two years that it produces gas. Although pollution decreases as a well matures, it can be detected throughout the productive life of a well. What is more, this pollution can be detected as far as 10 km downwind from a well, though the impact drops with distance.

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