Published: August 7, 2014
By: Nadia Steinzor
Other parts of Blackout in the Gas Patch:
- Press release
- Full Report
- Executive Summary
- Case study video: Infrared video of air pollution near Judy residence
- Photos from the report
From the case study:
The area where Pam Judy lives is a poster child for how dense natural gas development can be in Pennsylvania. Pam and her husband built their house in 2006 on property that once belonged to her great grandparents and remained part of the family farm—but over the years the gas industry has changed Carmichaels and surrounding towns dramatically. Today, there is a large compressor station 900 feet from the Judy home and more than 35 drilled and producing wells within one mile.
Our research shows that there are very plausible reasons why air quality has been compromised and contributes to the health problems that the Judy family experiences. In 2011, the top two facilities for emissions of coarse particulate matter in Pennsylvania were gas wells located within about one mile of the Judy home. Five gas wells located at that distance emitted enough (CO), nitrogen oxide (NOx), coarse particulate matter (PM10), and sulfur oxide (SOx) to essentially be the equivalent of a second compressor facility.
Noise, odors, and traffic have diminished many of the benefits of country life, but Pam, her husband, and their two children have been most concerned about their health. They have often felt tired and had headaches, runny noses, sore throats, and muscle aches. Pam has had bouts of dizziness and vomiting, and both children had frequent nosebleeds before they moved away.
Soon after the Judy family moved to Carmichaels, they became one of the first high-profile cases of health problems in Pennsylvania’s gas fields and helped to raise awareness among neighbors, policymakers, and the general public. Pam has filed odor, noise, and air quality complaints with DEP, spoken out at town meetings, written to state and federal officials, and shared her story with the media.
Because of Pam’s persistence, in 2010 DEP conducted air testing near her home. Results revealed the presence of a cocktail of chemicals with known short- and long-term health effects, including carcinogens like benzene, toluene, and xylene. Earthworks’ air testing at the Judy home in 2011 and 2013 also detected chemicals associated with the kinds of health symptoms reported by the family.
Taken together, emissions and events at nearby wells and facilities illustrate the myriad of impacts that gas operations can have on air quality and health. Yet DEP hasn’t made a connection between the rapid expansion of gas wells and facilities in the area and the ongoing complaints made by the Judy family and their neighbors. It isn’t clear whether this has had to do with time and resource constraints, the information and training given to inspectors, a lack of additional air testing, or other factors.