Potential Environmental and Health Concerns about Natural Gas Compressor Stations.
The following was prepared by the “Environmental Hazards” Team of the Stop Station 206 citizens group. The information provided is based on review of multiple online sources. Since there is limited information on the exact type of compressor station being proposed, extrapolation of pertinent information including those that were relevant to the existing proposed compressor station was used in this document to provide an opinion on the possible impact to the local community.
To help assist residents who are living in close proximity of the gas compressor station being proposed by Williams Company at the Trap Rock facility, below are some issues to consider based on research conducted online. Areas of concerns that the Team are considering involve major releases due to non-routine events, health hazards due to blow-downs, upset conditions, fugitive emissions, and emissions resulting from maintenance.
There is very limited information regarding natural gas compressor stations, especially those not specific to hydraulically fracturing (1). However, when reviewing the information related to compressor stations emissions and the potential health concerns, one cannot help being alarmed. Under normal ideal operating conditions, based on Williams filing with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), it would appear that there is no need for concern by residents in the impacted area. However, this is not the case when looking closer at the chemicals released from gas compressor stations based on review of existing information.
Various types of chemicals have been identified from compressor station blowdowns and large venting situations. These include Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), carbonyls and aldehydes, Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs), aromatics and particulate matter. Below is not an exhaustive list, but are some of the possible types of chemicals that can be released (2):
ethyl benzene formaldehyde
methanol 2-methyl butane
methyl mercaptan 2-methyl pentan
3 methyl pentane MTBE
napthlelene nitrogen dioxide
propane sulfur dioxide
The FERC filing by Williams does not provide any details on the intensity, frequency and duration of these emissions. Even if information is provided later on as part of any additional filing (i.e. Environmental Impact Assessment / Impact Report), it is unlikely that Williams will provide or know the peak levels that occur during blowdowns and large venting situations that are a normal part of compressor station operations (1). What is the impact to human health?
Blowdowns are the largest single release at compressor stations. It can be a scheduled event or an accidental one. They occur when the natural gas rushes through the blowdown valve resulting in a gas plume extending upward into the atmosphere. These blowdown events are very intense at the beginning with the strong flow of gas and slow down gradually. They can last from 30 minutes to as along as 3 hours. The amount of gas that is released will vary of course, but it has been reported that on average one blowdown event can release millions of cubic feet of gas into the atmosphere. For fugitive emissions from other sources like isolation valve leaks, the amount of gas released can be significant as well. There are upwards to thousands of potential sources of leaks from connections and valves at the compressor stations (3).
Since the gas is naturally occurring, it is likely that radioactive chemicals can be released into the atmosphere, though little is yet known about characteristics of the types of radioactive material and amounts (4). The naturally occurring gas flowing through the pipeline can likely contain gaseous radon with it (5). As the radon decays in the pipeline, its daughter elements, polonium and lead, can accumulate in the interior of the pipes. This radioactive material is a concern and can put local residents at risk if released.
At a regional level, the impact on the air quality will be reviewed and needs to meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). As a single source, the compressor station will likely comply with the standards set for emissions to the environment. However, the region already does not meet the requirement under the NAAQS. By adding additional sources with other planned gas compressor stations in New Jersey, the region’s air quality will continue to further degrade. Most importantly, the NAASQ standards do not adequately assess risk to human health for residents living in close proximity to polluting sources such as natural gas compressor stations (1).
With the multiple compressor station sources being approved by FERC, an air pollutant which may be a byproduct is SMOG, the driving forces behind the Clean Air Act of 1970 (6, 7). The formation of SMOG, which can lead to ozone (a lung irritant), occurs when nitrogen oxides (NOx) and many VOCs combine with sunlight, undergoing photochemical reactions (8). Although not currently identified as an issue for the region, it appears that there may be a perfect storm brewing with the multiple sources of VOCs from compressor stations and nitrogen oxides (NOx) sources from compressor stations and car/truck exhausts. The end result may be that the efforts to help the environment with utilization of natural gas could be more detrimental in the long run with a negative impact on the environment combined with human health consequences.
The health risks from VOCs are well documented (9, 10). Short term they can result in eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, fatigue, loss of coordination, allergic skin reaction, nausea, and memory impairment. Long term exposure can cause loss of coordination and damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system as well as an elevated risk of cancer. Health effects from particulate matter affect both the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Inhalation of respirable particulate matter can cause decreased lung function, aggravate asthma symptoms, cause nonfatal heart attacks and high blood pressure. Exposures to those more sensitive like children, pregnant women, and the elderly are especially of concern.
Reported Health Effects from Residents living near Compressor Stations
As the number of natural compressor stations approved by FERC grows in the name of clean energy, there is growing evidence about the negative impact to the health and welfare of the local nearby residents. There are still limited studies and research on emissions and health impacts from compressor stations. However, the self-reported symptoms from those living nearby compressor stations in different parts of the country shows consistencies in the types of symptoms experienced (12, 13, 14, 15). These symptoms reported are associated with health effects on respiratory, neurological, and cardiovascular systems which are consistent with those related to exposures to VOCs and other chemicals released from compressor stations.
- Report: EPA Needs to Improve Air Emissions Data for the Oil and Natural Gas Production Sector (Report #13-P-0161, February 20, 2013) – https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/20130220-13-p-0161.pdf
- Air Emissions Data from Natural Gas Operations – http://www.dep.pa.gov/Business/Air/BAQ/BusinessTopics/Emission/Pages/Marcellus-Inventory.aspx
- Petition for Rulemaking and Interpretive Guidance Ensuring Comprehensive Coverage of Methane Sources – https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/ghgrp_petition_0.pdf
- Managing Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) in the oil and gas industry – http://www.ogp.org.uk/pubs/412.pdf
- Radon Toxicity, Where Is Radon Found? – http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=8&po=5
- Clean Air Act (United States) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_Air_Act_(United_States)
- EPA Proposes New Commonsense Measures to Cut Methane Emissions from the Oil and Gas Sector/Proposal Cuts GHG Emissions, Reduces Smog-Forming Air Pollution and Provides Certainty for Industry – https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-proposes-new-commonsense-measures-cut-methane-emissions-oil-and-gas-sectorproposal
- SMOG – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smog
- Glossary of Volatile Organic Compounds – http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/clusters/fallon/Glossary-VOC.pdf
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), based in Atlanta, Georgia, is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/
- Gas Patch Roulette – https://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/Health-Report-Full-FINAL-sm.pdf