The collection and production of natural gas and oil has long been a part of Ohio, and many would venture to say that the latest form — that of hydro-fracking — is merely the latest in a long line of methods used to meet Ohio’s increasing need for energy.
However, like any other method of energy production, especially ones that deal with fossil fuels, there are considerations that must be taken into account. These include things such as how much is produced, the refining process, the effect on the water and land, and the effect on the health of the people and the community. It is a balancing act, of course, but many people are beginning to note that the respiratory health of the people and the community is not always the largest part of the plan.
One aspect of the process of oil or natural gas production that is gaining more notice is the idea of air emissions. By their very nature, the drilling and refining processes used in the industry release various emissions into the surrounding air. These include things that can be considered not harmful — such as water vapor — or those who can contribute to various health issues, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are known to cause cancer. Also, with the volatile nature of the compounds released, most of them can easily travel far and wide on the air currents; understanding their concentration in the air, their overall health effects and their overall location becomes vital.
The Environmental Protection Agency has determined through various biological and environmental studies what it considers to be safe exposure levels for many of the chemical compounds that are present in air emissions for drilling or refining activities. They are based on how much a certain individual, usually an adult, would need to be exposed to in order to start experiencing adverse effects within a short period of time (this is sometimes referred to as an “acute” exposure), or over the long term (long-term exposure). These concentrations are then used as a marker for air quality in the area being tested. If the concentrations are found to be below the exposure limits, no action is warranted. If they are found to be close to or above the limits, action may be taken by the various local, state or federal enforcement agencies to encourage companies to bring their emissions into compliance. These actions can include compliance violations, fines, work stoppages, civil suits and sometimes even criminal charges.
In truth, most of the oil and gas companies that operate in Ohio have very respectable records when it comes to air quality. They use various methods to keep their emission concentrations below what would be considered dangerous. However, in some cases, the sheer quantity of oil and gas production in an area can simply overwhelm the efforts of the individual company. For example, according to a recent news report published in “Inside Climate News” by David Hasemyer, researchers obtained air samples from Carroll County, Ohio. This county contains one of the largest numbers of gas and oil wells in the state — 480 permitted wells in total. The study found that in the worst-case scenario, one in which a person was exposed to the released contaminants for 24 hours over twenty-five years, the lifetime risk of getting cancer was nearly three times the acceptable risk as noted by the EPA.
While it should be cautioned that these findings cannot and should not be extrapolated for every situation, it does show the very real need for people in the community to understand the potential dangers that inherently exist in this process.
What are your thoughts? Is the balance between energy needs and the respiratory health of the community being maintained effectively in your community? What can be done to help the situation?