McCawley Reacts to DEP Report on His Wellpad Air Quality Data
The State Journal
2 July 2013
By Pam Kasey
West Virginia University professor Michael McCawley agrees with
the state Department of Environmental Protection's assessment that
no new regulations are needed at this time with regard to wellpad
He just thinks that assessment doesn't go quite far enough.
"Part of the reason for that is they don't have enough information
for new regulations," McCawley said.
DEP submitted to the state Legislature on June 28 its horizontal
drilling air quality report — the third of three reports lawmakers
requested when they passed the Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control
Act in December 2011.
The report was based in part on data gathered by contract to DEP
under the supervision of McCawley, who is chairman of the
Department of Occupational and Environmental Health in WVU's
School of Public Health, and submitted to the department as part
of a larger noise, light, dust and volatile organic compounds
study aimed at assessing the effectiveness of setting the centers
of wellpads no closer than 625 feet from occupied dwellings.
Among other findings, the data indicated that benzene may pose a
health hazard in some instances. Benzene is a volatile organic
compound that causes irritation of the skin, eyes and upper
respiratory tract and, with longer exposure, blood disorders,
reproductive and developmental disorders and cancer, according to
the Environmental Protection Agency.
DEP's summary in the June 28 air quality report to the Legislature
indicated that no new rules are needed and did not mention
benzene, although its second report did mention the benzene
The agency already recommended that lawmakers consider increasing
wellpad setback distances, which would help with any air quality
concerns, said Renu Chakrabarty, air toxics coordinator for DEP's
Division of Air Quality and project coordinator for the Horizontal
Well Control Act data-gathering effort. It also suggested that the
state's law minimizing the idling of diesel engines could be
The agency's report to the Legislature did not mention the study's
suggestion that a health effects-based wellpad setback proposal
might require a three-year sampling effort.
"A more definitive sampling and health effects study needs to be
done in West Virginia to address the issues of potential exposures
from gas drilling to the people in the state," one study
recommendation reads. The state's hilly topography particularly
allows for the concentration of contaminants and of atmospheric
inversions that trap contaminants low in the atmosphere. Three
years of data on various contaminants in various topographies
would allow for an evaluation of health risks in comparison with
federal air quality standards.
"Each site has its own unique terrain and meteorology that are
going to play into a site-specific analysis," Chakrabarty said in
partial explanation of the DEP's choice not to highlight that
suggestion for the Legislature. And big studies are expensive, she
The DEP's report to the Legislature also did not mention the
study's suggestion that, short of a three-year data-gathering
effort, the industry could monitor its own activities to assure
control of emissions. The study says the industry uses wellpad
noise monitors in Texas and suggests that all potential hazards
could be monitored similarly.
"The regulations do say that for these kinds of operations in
general you should use the best available control technology,"
McCawley elaborated in an interview.
"DEP could use that to come up with novel approaches. One I've
suggested is fenceline monitors," he continued. "The industry
could put up monitors near sensitive locations. If there's a house
nearby, put one there, and use the data as feedback to the people
who are controlling what's going on. They could change what
they're doing and how they're doing it to be more in control of
He said he spoke with a company several weeks ago that is
interested in fenceline monitoring.
McCawley encourages people who are interested in wellpad air
quality and in rules related to that to read his study.
"The whole study is 250 pages long, but the gist is in the first
30 pages or so," he said.