New Study Indicates Fracking In Neighboring States May Contribute to Maryland’s Air Pollution

An April 30 Baltimore Sun article reported that a recent study by scientists at the University of Maryland found that natural gas hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”)in neighboring states may be contributing to an increase ethane levels in Maryland’s atmosphere. The findings come as the Maryland General Assembly passed a two-year moratorium on fracking during the 2015 Session and Governor Larry Hogan ponders regulations that would govern fracking operations in the state. From the article:

In a paper published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, University of Maryland scientists reported finding that levels of ethane, a component of natural gas, rose 30 percent from 2010 through 2013 in air samples taken at a monitoring station in Essex.

A similar spike in ethane levels was detected at a monitor in Washington near Howard University – but not in Atlanta, where there is no fracking occurring in neighboring states.

The UM researchers say they couldn’t find anything in Maryland that could account for such increases. Indeed, levels of other air pollutants responsible for summertime smog have declined significantly since the 1990s.

But in reviewing air circulation patterns in the Mid-Atlantic region, researchers found that the bulk of prevailing winds reaching Baltimore and Washington passed over areas of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio where there is widespread drilling for gas.

What we’re trying to do is wave a little flag,” said Sheryl H. Ehrman, a co-author of the paper and chair of UM’s chemical and biomolecular engineering department. “It looks like we’ve got a problem. I think we’ve got a regional issue.”

The article also included statements from natural gas industry advocates disputing the study’s findings:

Oil and gas industry representatives disputed the study. Joseph P. Massaro, spokesman for Energy in Depth, an arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said the Environmental Protection Agency and others have determined that air emissions have declined in spite of, or because of, growing production of natural gas. …

Dan Whitten, spokesman for the American Natural Gas Alliance, contended methane releases have declined sharply in recent years as the industry increasingly practices “green” well completions, capturing emissions rather than letting them vent into the air.

The study is available for purchase.