New Brunswick Shale Gas Air Monitoring Study – Interim Report 2015
In the fall of 2012, a Memorandum of Agreement for Services (MOA no. 4500290325) between Health Canada and the New Brunswick Department of Environment and Local Government was established to conduct an air monitoring study around shale gas activities in the province of New Brunswick. Environment Canada was also involved in this project through the National Air Pollution Surveillance Memorandum of Understanding and other interdepartmental agreements. The study consisted of four phases that represented as much as possible the different stages of shale gas development in New Brunswick: Phase I – baseline conditions prior to any development; Phase II – well development and gas production; Phase III – natural gas processing and distribution; and Phase IV – well closure.
A first interim report (Interim report 01) was released in February 2014. The report outlined the different study phases, the data collection approach, the monitoring and sampling methodologies, and quality assurance and quality control procedures. The Interim report 01 presented the monitoring data collected between October 2012 and April 2013 at the Phase I site, along with some preliminary analyses of the data set.
The second interim report (Interim report 02) presents analyses of the data from Phases I, III and IV. These data were collected over 12 months – from October 2012 to October 2013 – at three locations around Sussex, New Brunswick.
Phase I data provided information on regional pollutant levels that can be considered as “normal” (i.e., baseline) for the area in which the study sites were located. The pollutants that were monitored included criteria air contaminants, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone and particulate matter, as well as non-criteria air pollutants and air toxics, such as metals and polycyclic aromatic compounds. For the criteria pollutants, the results showed that pollutant levels were similar to, or lower than average pollutant levels reported at air monitoring stations across New Brunswick. Pollutant levels were notably lower than those recorded in the larger urban centres of New Brunswick – that is, Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John. Although comparisons were not possible for all pollutants, the absence of significant emission sources of pollutants upwind of the Phase I site suggested that the levels observed were not significantly influenced by local anthropogenic sources. Thus, the site allowed the collection of regionally representative air pollutant data that could be used to assess the influence of local sources on pollutant levels in the region of Sussex, New Brunswick.
Phase II of the study – that is, air quality monitoring during well completion and gas production activities – was initiated in June 2014 at a well site in Penobsquis, New Brunswick. A hydraulic fracturing event occurred in early September 2014. Monitoring activities ended in March 2015. Data collected during this phase of the study will be presented and analyzed in a subsequent report, tentatively planned for release in 2016.
Phase III of the study involved the collection of data around an existing natural gas treatment facility in Penobsquis, New Brunswick. Data collected during Phase III indicated that emissions from the gas treatment facility had a measurable but limited influence on air pollutant concentrations, notably for volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Higher concentrations were reported for some VOCs at sampling locations downwind from the facility compared with sampling locations positioned upwind. Several VOCs could be associated with natural gas operations, such as butane, hexane, pentane and propane. Nonetheless, the results suggested that measured concentrations were below levels considered as being a risk to human health. For example, they were lower than air quality standards that have been adopted by some Canadian jurisdictions and similar to, or lower than levels measured across New Brunswick.
Samples collected at a site with two suspended natural gas wells (Phase IV) showed low concentrations of VOCs and methane. Some compounds were measured at higher levels compared with Phase I and Phase III, notably decane and undecane. Additional information was considered necessary to identify potential sources and causes of these higher concentrations. Nonetheless, these compounds were not measured at concentrations that are of concern to human health.
The study was conducted in a geographic range not covered in previous air quality reports. Although the study has the potential to indicate possible human health-related concerns associated with air quality that could be transferable to other jurisdictions, additional data analysis and potentially air monitoring are considered necessary to extrapolate the results from this study to other shale gas plays. It must also be noted that the data analyses in the Interim report 02 are subject to additional revisions and, as such, they should not be considered final.
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