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.
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.”
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.
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