Meet a “Minor Source” of Air Pollution in the Natural Gas Mining Cycle

by jim on June 17, 2012

Despite overwhelming community opposition, Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) is getting its very first compressor station this month. It's tastefully located near a mall in order to process gas being extracted from near-by Marcellus Shale wells. Not considered a great hot spot for the gas itself, the county nevertheless finds itself in close-enough proximity to the gas patch to be of use to operators as a repository for some of its other facilities along their fuel cycle. Along with five compressor engines there will also be three dehydrators, and reboilers, and two 6.500 gallon storage tanks. It will release 35 tons of smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), 17 tons of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), 7 tons of formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), and 11 tons of soot/Particulate Matter pollution.  The NOx figure alone is the equivalent of something like 2500-3000 cars worth of pollution alone. No mention in the article how much CO2 is being emitted. This facility is considered a "minor source" of air pollution by the Allegheny County Health Department. Everything is relative of course. Compared to the steel mill smokestacks that made up the skyline of Pittsburgh for most of its existence 70 tons of crud a year might strike you as smallish. But when you stick that same 70 tons of crud as close as 500 feet away from a neighborhood or school that's not used to having heavy industry located so close, it doesn't look all that minor. And that's why the Dallas City Council's task force recommendation to allow compressors on the gas well pad itself, restricted only by the same zoning requirements of a drilling rig that produces a lot less pollution, is so nonsensical. Compressors are giant polluters. Their engines can be the size of locomotives. Imagine five of these only 500 feet from your yard or child's school. That's what's being endorsed by the task force and that's what citizens are rejecting out of hand. One of the major issues the Dallas City Council will have to decide as part of its new gas drilling ordinance is how and where these huge, necessary parts of the gas industry infrastructure will be allowed to locate.

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