Evaluation of gas well setback policy in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania in relation to emissions of fine particulate matter
Shale gas has become an important strategic energy source with considerable potential economic benefits and the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in so far as it displaces coal use. However, there still exist environmental health risks caused by emissions from exploration and production activities. In the United States, states and localities have set different minimum setback policies to reduce the health risks corresponding to the emissions from these locations, but it is unclear whether these policies are sufficient. This study uses a Gaussian plume model to evaluate the probability of exposure exceedance from EPA concentration limits for PM2.5 at various locations around a generic wellsite in the Marcellus shale region. A set of meteorological data monitored at ten different stations across Marcellus shale gas region in Pennsylvania during 2015 serves as an input to this model. Results indicate that even though the current setback distance policy in Pennsylvania (500 ft. or 152.4 m) might be effective in some cases, exposure limit exceedance occurs frequently at this distance with higher than average emission rates and/or greater number of wells per wellpad. Setback distances should be 736 m to ensure compliance with the daily average concentration of PM2.5, and a function of the number of wells to comply with the annual average PM2.5 exposure standard.
Implications: The Marcellus Shale gas is known as a significant source of criteria pollutants and studies show that the current setback distance in Pennsylvania is not adequate to protect the residents from exceeding the established limits. Even an effective setback distance to meet the annual exposure limit may not be adequate to meet the daily limit. The probability of exceeding the annual limit increases with number of wells per site. We use a probabilistic dispersion model to introduce a technical basis to select appropriate setback distances.