Bunch AG, Perry CS, Abraham L, Wikoff DS, Tachovsky JA, Hixon JG, Urban JD, Harris MA, Haws LC. 2014. Evaluation of impact of shale gas operations in the Barnett Shale region on volatile organic compounds in air and potential human health risks. Sci Tot Environ 468-469(2014):832-842.
Shale gas exploration and production (E&P) has experienced substantial growth across the U.S. over the last decade. The Barnett Shale, in north-central Texas, contains one of the largest, most active onshore gas fields in North America, stretching across 5000 square miles and having an estimated 15,870 producing wells as of 2011. Given that these operations may occur in relatively close proximity to populated/urban areas, concerns have been expressed about potential impacts on human health. In response to these concerns, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality established an extensive air monitoring network in the region. This network provides a unique data set for evaluating the potential impact of shale gas E&P activities on human health. As such, the objective of this study was to evaluate community-wide exposures to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the Barnett Shale region. In this current study, more than 4.6 million data points (representing data from seven monitors at six locations, up to 105 VOCs/monitor, and periods of record dating back to 2000) were evaluated. Measured air concentrations were compared to federal and state health-based air comparison values (HBACVs) to assess potential acute and chronic health effects. None of the measured VOC concentrations exceeded applicable acute HBACVs. Only one chemical (1,2-dibromoethane) exceeded its applicable chronic HBACV, but it is not known to be associated with shale gas production activities. Annual average concentrations were also evaluated in deterministic and probabilistic risk assessments and all risks/hazards were below levels of concern. The analyses demonstrate that, for the extensive number of VOCs measured, shale gas production activities have not resulted in community-wide exposures to those VOCs at levels that would pose a health concern. With the high density of active wells in this region, these findings may be useful for understanding potential health risks in other shale play regions.