VIDEO INVESTIGATION: Gas Well Flaring in the Marcellus Shale

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Focus on Flaring

“Flaring” is a term used to describe the burning of natural gas from a well that has not yet been linked to a pipeline. When a well is “flared,”a huge flame lights up the sky, reaching higher than tree tops, accompanied by a noise similar to a 757 jet engine.

The sight and sound of a flaring well are quite intimidating, but the practice is not a risk to public health according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP.

The view from Jim Harkins property line looking into the well pad during the second flaring. © Joshua B. Pribanic

According to a short-term air quality report concluded by DEP in January 2011, elevated levels of “methane detected in the ambient air prior to the flaring (29.2 ppm maximum and 5.5 ppm average) was greater than concentrations detected during the flaring when the methane was being burned. Concentrations of carbon monoxide and ethylbenzene were also detected at the well site. Ethylbenzene is a component of gasoline and because the concentrations detected prior to and during the flaring were similar, its detection was most likely not related to the flaring.”

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However, for those living near Marcellus natural gas well pads where wells are flared, light and noise pollution are powerful enough to cause sleepless deprevation. Even with both blinds and curtains, you can still see the flicker of the giant flame inside the house all hours of the night. Jim Harkins has one such operation bordering his property. The well site is less than 800 feet from his bedroom window. Whatever air pollutants are emitted from the drilling operations, flaring or not flaring, they are blown onto his property since the forest that once stood where the well pad now exists no longer blocks the prevailing winds.

So far the wells on the pad near the Harkins’ home have been flared three times, lasting a week or more each time.

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission released a report on July 22, 2011 meant to influence updates to the state’s natural gas regulations. The recommendations outlined in the report to not include mitigation for the residential impacts of flaring.

Currently in Pennsylvania, a natural gas well can be drilled 200 feet from a home, business, school or hospital. The Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission report recommended an Increase [in] the minimum setback distance from a private water well from 200 feet to 500 feet anda minimum setback distance from a public water supply to 1,000 feet unless waived in writing by the owner or public water supply operator.

No recommendations for increasing the setback distance between gas operations and private or public property.

We interviewed Skip Louchs, who has been working on the Harkins’ property since before drilling started, to get another perspective on what’s been going on… available in Novemeber.

Have a pitch about this investigation?


  • It’s hard not to feel JH’s pain. I can’t wait to watch the full-length documentary.

  • sinclair

    This fills me with dread. The well being flared about a mile from me could be heard 5 miles away in the next town. How is this possible, it seems that it ought to be illegal to conduct this activity so close to someone’s home. I am in fear for the well pad proposed on my neighbors property, only 200 ft away. I am worried to death about what my family will be exposed to.

  • JIm

    Live with it. I lived with your damn wife’s mistake foe many years. Nice gold explorer that got the maroon F150 a few yrs back. Now I guess its pay back at camp six pack..

    • While we like to hold a candle to justice and illuminate big pictures, we neither tolerate nor get involved in personal attacks. Your threatening tone (“damn wife” and “pay back” over what you yourself call a “mistake”) has been documented as well as your IP address and email for security purposes. Anyone else making personal attacks will be documented as well.

  • anonymous

    Would he still be complaining if he owned the mineral rights?

    Did you contact the gas company to see their response to this, has he contacted them for reciprocation?

    Progress has some bumps. One question you need to ask is what is worse, creating infrastructure or having our country become so reliant on others for fuel that we severely cripple our growth and independence?

  • anonymous

    More than 2,000 wells have been drilled in the Keystone State since 2008, and gas production surged to 81 billion cubic feet in 2009 from five billion in 2007. A new Manhattan Institute report by University of Wyoming professor Timothy Considine estimates that a typical Marcellus well generates some $2.8 million in direct economic benefits from natural gas company purchases; $1.2 million in indirect benefits from companies engaged along the supply chain; another $1.5 million from workers spending their wages, or landowners spending their royalty payments; plus $2 million in federal, state and local taxes. Oh, and 62 jobs.

    A Tale of Two Shale States
    Pennsylvania’s gain vs. New York’s missed opportunity.

  • anonymous
  • Melissa Troutman

    This industry brings with it jobs and money, but many feel that these benefits are short-term while the health impacts from natural gas development are long-term. Talk to a family with children who are suffering from water and air pollution from drilling and transmission of natural gas near them, and you may have a different perspective. As one citizen at a recent EPA public hearing stated, ‘jobs that cause illness and premature death of others are bad jobs. This is America. No family should have to suffer so that another can gain.’
    Whether jobs and money for some outweigh the health and well-being of others is a matter not just of personal opinion, but of where your morals lie. Is your money worth jeopardizing the health of others? We withhold our judgement. But for more about the real people who are experiencing health effects from natural gas development, visit our section on the EPA air quality hearing held in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Sept. 27, 2011 —>>