Frequently Asked Questions
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is natural gas?
Natural gas is gaseous hydrocarbon composed mainly of methane (CH4) and ethane. Most natural gas deposits are located deeper below the earth's surface than other fossil fuels and are, therefore, harder to extract. (1)
How does natural gas impact climate change?
Methane can be burned and used as a source of energy but it is also a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere. Methane alone traps 72 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide on a twenty-year timeframe, meaning it has 72 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. (3) Because of how it interacts with aerosols in the atmosphere, its global warming potential increases to 105 times that of carbon dioxide.
What is the Marcellus Shale?
Marcellus Shale is an underground rock formation spanning much of West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York. Its natural gas potential only recently became economical to extract because of technological advances and an increase in the price of more traditional fossil fuels. Shale gas is an “unconventional” source, meaning the gas is more difficult to extract than the gas in conventional deposits. (4) Studies show that 3.6%-7.9% of the methane from shale gas production escapes into the earth's atmosphere - at least 30% more than conventional gas production. (5)
What is hydraulic fracturing, AKA “fracking” or “hydrofracking”?
Fracking is a method of drilling for unconventional sources of natural gas. A vertical well is drilled and a mixture of water and chemicals is pumped into the well under high pressure to fracture the shale and release the gas. (7)
Is hydraulic fracturing regulated for air pollution?
Fracking and flaring are currently exempt from the Clean Air Act and are not regulated by the EPA. These activities are also exempt from air quality permitting regulations in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (12) (89)
What human health effects are associated with shale gas operations?
Various pollutants that are detrimental to human health are emitted throughout the process of shale gas hydraulic fracturing. 75% of the chemicals used in fracking affect sensory organs, such as the skin and eyes, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. (13) Furthermore, 37% of the chemicals used are volatile and can become airborne. (14)
How do these health effects impact more vulnerable populations such as children?
Vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly, are at increased risk of exposure to air pollutants, and are more susceptible to their harmful effects than the general population. In particular, children are vulnerable because their respiratory, immune, and nervous systems are still developing. They have a lower ability to detoxify dangerous chemicals than adults, and they typically spend more time outdoors - making them more likely to be exposed to sustained, low levels of pollutants over time. This kind of exposure may not produce obvious symptoms right away, but can have significant long-term health effects. (99)
How can the locations of gas drilling facilities increase the danger to vulnerable populations?
Proximity to natural gas drilling facilities increases exposure to the harmful pollutants. There are over 400 day care facilities, schools, and hospitals within a mile of permitted well sites in the five-state region in which the Marcellus Shale is located. In Pennsylvania alone, "there are 60 percent more daycare facilities located within one mile of a fracking well...than there were in late 2010." These well sites are not safe; PADEP "recorded more than 250 violations of regulations intended to protect public safety and the environment at fracking sites within one mile of a day care facility, school, or hospital" (PennEnvironment, "The Spreading Shadow of the Shale Gas Boom").
What are the effects of specific pollutants produced by fracking?
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): irritate the skin/eyes/respiratory system; are carcinogenic (can increase risk of cancer with long-term exposure)
Nitrogen oxides (NOx): irritate the skin/eyes/respiratory system; cause burning, spasms, and swelling (at high levels of exposure); and combine with VOCs to form ground-level ozone, the main ingredient of smog
Ground-level ozone (smog): causes chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion; can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma; and can permanently burn and scar lung tissue
Silica dust: causes silicosis (lung disease); exposure to airborne silica has been identified as a health hazard to workers at fracking sites by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
What emissions are produced by the different aspects of natural gas drilling operations?
Every stage of natural gas production and delivery causes air pollution. Shale gas operations can interfere with a region’s ability to meet air quality standards or cause local air quality issues.
Compressor stations: pressurize gas and push it through pipelines. The massive diesel engines used to do this emit tons of harmful pollution each year - including large amounts of fine particulate matter. (43)
Condensate tanks: used to separate semi-liquid condensate, a byproduct of natural gas drilling consisting of hydrocarbons, from the natural gas itself by venting hydrocarbon vapor directly into the atmosphere (40)
Diesel engines: used to drill and to pump water, silica, and chemicals deep into the ground. Diesel trucks are also used to transport massive amounts of this chemical mixture to the site and release exhaust. (36)
Evaporation pits: large pits used to store "flowback," the hazardous wastewater that returns to the surface after drilling (38)
Flaring: controlled burning of natural gas that reaches the end of a flare stack. These emit large amounts of pollution into the air (45)
Venting: controlled emission of gases into the atmosphere throughout gas production operations; releases natural gas, hydrocarbon vapors, water vapor, carbon dioxide, and toxic impurities in gas (38)
Well pad construction: requires clearing about 7-8 acres of land; involves removing trees, which are essential to carbon dioxide absorption (34)
What does Protect Our Children do?
Protect our Children (POC) is an educational and advocacy campaign focused on protecting school children from the health risks of shale gas drilling and infrastructure. We are a coalition of parents, concerned citizens, and environmental and health advocacy groups. Our goal is to limit children’s exposure to harmful pollutants by keeping shale gas drilling and infrastructure at least 1 mile away from schools. Our hope is to mobilize communities where shale gas drilling is proposed near schools to connect local groups and share resources to protect children’s health.
How can my organization help?
Sign our pledge of support, volunteer to raise awareness about this issue through local events or media work, and advocate locally for setback ordinances for fracking equipment. Contact Protect Our Children for more information.
How can I/my community get support?
Use the coalition's resources to educate your community about the dangers of fracking and related infrastructure and organize them to take action to protect local schools. Contact Protect Our Children to request a presentation, strategy session workshop, or consulting (all free of charge).
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4. "Key Documents About Mid-Atlantic Oil and Gas Extraction." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 05 June 2013.
5. Howarth, Robert W., Renee Santoro, and Anthony Ingraffea. "Methane and the Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Natural Gas from Shale Formations." (2011): n. pag. Springer. Web
7. "How Hydraulic Fracturing Works." The Bousson Advisory Group. Allegheny College, n.d. Web. 05 June 2013. <>.
12. Loopholes for Polluters." Earthworks. Web. 6 June 2013. <>.
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14. Charles, Schmidt W. "Blind Rush? Shale Gas Boom Proceeds Amid Human Health Questions." Environmental Health Perspectives 119.8 (2011): 348-53. 1 Aug. 2011. Web. 6 June 2013. <>.
34. Johnson, N. 2010. Pennsylvania Energy Impacts Assessment Report 1: Marcellus ShaleNaturalGas and Wind. The Nature Conservancy.
36. Cooley, Heather, and Kristina Donnelly. "Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Resources:Separating the Frack from the Friction." Pacific Institute, June 2012. Web. 20 June 2013.
38. Produced Water." Energy. About.com, n.d. Web. 01 July 2013. <>
40. Dachille, Kathleen. "Environmental Health - Hydraulic Fracturing Fact Sheet." The Network for Public Health Law. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 July 2013.
43. Batheja, Aman. "Carcinogen from Gas Compressor Stations Being Monitored." Star-telegram.com, 4 Oct. 2010. Web. 01 July 2013. <>.
45. "Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement On The Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program." New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 1 July 2013. <>.
89. PADEP, "Air Quality Permit Exemptions." <>
99. EPA, "Six Common Pollutants." <>.