HARRISBURG -- State environmental regulators announced on Monday that they are beginning a one-year study of air quality near several Marcellus Shale sites in Washington County.
The longer-term emissions analysis follows a series of shorter studies performed by the state Department of Environmental Protection in the state's southwest, northeast and north-central regions during 2010 and 2011.
Those samples did not show concentrations of any compound that likely would trigger air-related health issues, according to officials.
The new study will give a longer look at how air quality changes throughout the year in one of the most heavily drilled areas of the commonwealth.
"Everything that could be happening with Marcellus Shale is happening with the Marcellus Shale in Washington County," said DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday. "In the near future, the department will have more information than we've ever had on air emissions and shale drilling."
The primary site for the DEP study will be downwind from the Houston gas processing plant in Chartiers. The agency will monitor ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen sulfide and methane, and will check for more than 60 volatile organic compounds.
Three other sites for sampling include one upwind of the Houston processing plant, one downwind of the Brigich compressor station in Chartiers and another downwind of the Stewart compressor stations in Hickory, also part of the 2010 short-term study.
Those sites handle gas between coming out of the ground and going into a pipeline -- a processing stage that requires significant treatment, Mr. Sunday said.
A report will be released next summer, after the year's samples have been analyzed. The results will help the agency determine whether additional long-term sampling is needed in other parts of the state.
George Jugovic, president of the environmental advocacy group PennFuture and a former DEP staffer who was with the agency during the short-term air studies, said it is "heartening" to see additional air testing, but that the state should be developing a continuous monitoring system.
He said more details are needed on how close the monitoring points are to the processing sites, as well as how frequently the samples will be taken.
"We definitely need data, but a one-year study is insufficient," Mr. Jugovic said. "It would have been more useful had the administration thought to include the public in developing its protocol."
Harrisburg Bureau Chief Laura Olson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-717-787-4254.