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State, private data say gas industry creates fraction of state's air pollution

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By Timothy Puko
Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, 2:42 p.m.

The deep-shale gas industry produced a small fraction of the state's air pollution in 2011, according to newly released state data and private research.

Shale gas drilling and processing released less than 10 percent of some of the most common air pollutants emitted by stationary polluters in 2011, according to an inventory the Department of Environmental Protection tallied. For some substances, industry emissions constituted less than a fraction of a percent. Stationary polluters include coal-fired power plants and steel mills, but not cars and trucks.

DEP mandated last year that gas producers and pipeline companies provide data about their pollution. It totaled the data and published a summary online ahead of a more complete release it plans this month.

Meanwhile, a Rand Corp. analysis released Thursday calculated that the air pollution produced by the industry would cause about $7 million of damage in and around Pennsylvania for things such as higher health care bills and environmental degradation. Rand's analysis was independent of the state's data.

That is small compared with the hundreds of millions in estimated damage the rest of the state's polluters caused but adds to the risk of respiratory problems and premature death near industry sites, Rand said.

The downside of the gas boom includes more vehicle traffic, exhaust-spewing compressor engines and raw fuel sometimes vented or burned off.

DEP started to collect raw data a year ago, It plans to expand the inventory to traditional drillers in 2012, according to a slideshow the department prepared for its Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee.

Industry officials this week lauded the data in the slideshow, noting its place in a larger trend of cleaner air. Recent federal and state data showed big gains in air quality, with Pennsylvania cutting its point-source pollution by half between 2008 and 2011, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Rand didn't try to assess the gains achieved by using gas in place of dirtier fuel such as coal.

“If you look at it on a statewide basis, you have to look at it holistically and look at what we're using that gas for,” said Andrew Paterson, a technical expert with the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a trade group. “I have trouble picturing the scenario where you don't get the benefits and get all the downside.”

The data show why society should push the gas industry to keep lowering its impact, said Dr. Bernard D. Goldstein, professor emeritus and former dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media..

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