Understanding the scale of exposure to hydraulic fracturing methods

This research project aims to better understand the scale of human and environmental exposure to activities related to hydraulic fracturing methods in order to interpret the potential human and environmental health impacts. The area selected for study was Weld County in northeastern Colorado, where there are approximately 21,000 natural gas wells. Emissions from a single hydraulic fracturing site may not be a major cause for concern, but many sites tend to cluster within the same area and many well pad sites contain multiple wells that can be fracturing several times. With the proliferation and expansion of shale gas production, additional research our research aims to understand the potential environmental and human health impacts of this rapidly growing energy source.

The project was proposed and carried out by Diane Garcia-Gonzalez and Ben Greenfield, students with the SAGE-IGERT program at the University of California, Berkeley. They utilized six air quality monitors based on Alfasense sensors courtesy of Professor Rod Jones from the University of Cambridge, as well as 20 TraceAir® Badge sensors in an array around Erie High School in Erie, Colorado.

The monitors were deployed in mid-July to collect air samples through mid-August. The Cambridge monitors measured nitrogen dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOC), particulate matter, and wind direction. In addition, the Erie sensors measured a wide variety of VOCs including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX) as well as hydrocarbons. The collected data will function as the foundation to SAGE supported research, in partnership with other SAGE fellows and participating professors at UC Berkeley. This data will be used to understand the interaction between the fate of fracking-related chemicals, human and environmental exposure, and toxicology in order to address environmental policies around hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation methods.