State Checking Air Quality In Gas Drilling Areas

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DIMOCK TOWNSHIP -- The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is testing air quality this week in Susquehanna County in the area with the most natural gas activity.

DEP says with so much drilling and fracking and so many compressor stations being built to help transport the gas, some have questioned if the air is being polluted.

Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" is the process of using liquid to break up underground shale to extract natural gas.

It's hard to miss all the natural gas activity in the Elk Lake area of Susquehanna County but some people wonder what you can't see here, what's happening to the air. So the state brought an air testing unit to spend the week in the area, trying to figure out if all the gas activity is causing any air quality concerns.

"People have come to us at these public hearings, they've been worried about not just one compressor station, we're worried about the cumulative effect of all these compressor stations and what they're giving off.  So the DEP is up here trying to monitor air quality and trying to see what is floating around," said Colleen Connolly, DEP spokesperson.

Equipment is testing any emissions coming from those compressor stations used to help transport the gas, the fracking, and the drilling.

Researchers were testing levels behind the Elk Lake schools.

An infrared beam is going from the truck to a piece of equipment, picking up any abnormalities.

"Basically, it goes 70 meters up from this piece of equipment, up this way and 70 meters back for 140 meters and it measures the volatile organic chemicals, the nitrous oxide, the methane in the air," Connolly explained.

The location of the test site is near several well pads, a drilling site, and a compressor station.

"Sure I'm glad. You have kids playing at the school right there and I live here and we want to make sure everything's safe," said Bill Ivens.

Ivens lives right near the testing location and a gas well.  The equipment is so sensitive that it even picked up exhaust coming from his lawn mower earlier in the day. He's curious to see if this testing turns up any concerns.

"Every once in a while, I'll be on the deck and I hear a release sound coming from back there," Ivens said. "I hear noises coming from back there every so often and it makes you think."

A DEP spokesperson says preliminary results so far haven't turned up any air quality concerns, but the testing will be at different spots in the county all week. It will be about a month before all the test results are in.