Accounting Cumulative Impacts of Highly Industrialized Infrastructure

Robinson and Smith Townships, Pennsylvania

Featured image for the project, Accounting Cumulative Impacts of Highly Industrialized Infrastructure

Photo Courtesy of Garth Lenz, iLCP and EIP

Description

Robinson and Smith Townships, located in Washington County, Pennsylvania, are close knit, idyllic, rural and agricultural communities. In recent years, shale gas extraction has boomed in Washington County, proving a divisive issue among residents and straining relationships between neighbors, as industry changes the landscape of communities with the development of wells, pipelines, processing plants, and compressor stations. As public health concerns mount, residents are looking for expertise to aid with understanding the cumulative air quality implications of hydraulic fracturing operations and associated industrial infrastructure development clustered in these rural communities.

This challenge will focus on the less studied equipment and operations that lack meaningful, transparent permitting and/or do not provide complete monitoring, in particular pigging operations, compressor stations and processing plants, and the flaring that accompanies such operations. Residents want to understand how the equipment is intended to function, how much equipment and operations are necessary, and what planned releases of contaminants accompany each portion of the operations. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are the contaminants of concern, particularly benzene, methane and formaldehyde.

Robinson Township officials originally challenged the Act 13 regulations that stifled municipalities’ long established zoning authority with regard to the new shale gas industry in Pennsylvania.  A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in December of 2013, reaffirmed local zoning authority, however, this legal decision angered some lease holders, fearing their opportunities to reap the benefits of potential shale gas royalties.  As a result, the Robinson Township officials responsible for initiating the landmark Robinson Township v Commonwealth of Pennsylvania challenge to Pennsylvania’s Act 13 were voted out of office and replaced with decision-makers sympathetic to the oil and gas industry, including some leaseholders.  As one of the centers of oil and gas extraction in Western Pennsylvania, residents in Robinson and Smith Townships, Washington County are concerned about the cumulative impacts of industrial operations, particularly air quality implications, as the regulatory oversight is lacking in this regard.

Background on the Robinson Township v Commonwealth of PA ruling:  https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2013/12/19/state-supreme-court-strikes-down-act-13-local-zoning-restrictions/

A literature review is requested prior to project start to anticipate specific compounds to monitor. Of interest to the local residents would be canister testing, FLIR camera imaging and/or other equivalent monitoring that can provide scientific data detailing what emissions are being released from the oil and gas operations near their homes, farms and school.  It is the citizen team’s hope that Albert Presto will coordinate access or ownership of monitoring equipment, including the ability to set up, maintenance of the equipment, as well as gathering of and analysis of data.

About the Community

Community Leads

Cathy Lodge is a 1991 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science.  She has always been interested in issues involving the environment. Living in a small rural town in Washington County PA, Cathy has a front row seat to the oil and gas boom.  She actively encourage local and state regulatory agencies to consider the scientific data and cumulative health impacts of industry and to take steps to protect the environment and the citizens.

 

Lisa Graves Marcucci is Pennsylvania Coordinator, Community Outreach with the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).  Since joining EIP in 2009, her efforts to protect human health from power plant and oil and gas pollution have grown from the community to the regional and national level. Lisa has conducted extensive reviews of permit files for EIP, helped to identify violations, and organized citizen testimony at numerous public hearings before local, state and national agencies. Lisa was invited to speak before the National Academy of Sciences in October of 2004 in Washington, D.C., advocating for more effective regulation of coal combustion waste disposal.  Lisa is a life-long resident of Pittsburgh’s Monongahela Valley and is a graduate of Duquesne University.

Scientific Lead

Albert Presto is an Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and a member of Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies. Albert’s research focuses on pollutant emissions from energy extraction and consumption and the subsequent atmospheric transformations that these emissions undergo. He investigates the contributions of primary and secondary pollution with ambient measurements, laboratory experiments, source testing of pollution sources, and atmospheric models. This multi-pronged and multi-disciplinary approach allows for a holistic view of pollutant emissions and transformations in the atmosphere.

 

Contact

Cathy “Cat” Lodge will serve as the primary point of contact. She will be supported by other partners and neighbors and by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). Cat will be the interface with the community for monitoring sites, engaging with other community members. The community is self-taught, aware, has developed maps, acquired photos and detailed knowledge of area, location of facilities, and the like. If air monitoring is possible, there are property owners willing to place monitors abutting or adjacent to various types of facilities.

Collaborating Organization(s)

This project is part of one of Thriving Earths’ new cohorts.  Thriving Earth Exchange has partnered with AGU’s GeoPolicy Connect in 2017 to bring community leaders from eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania affected by ongoing hydraulic fracturing together with scientists and policymakers. Thriving Earth Exchange is working with three local community groups to connect them with scientists who can help them better understand and cope with the effects of hydraulic fracturing.