A 3-month air monitoring study was conducted in Washington County, Pennsylvania, at the request of local community members regarding the potential risks resulting from air emissions of pollutants related to hydraulic fracturing operations. Continuous air monitoring for total volatile organic compounds was performed at two sampling sites, including a school and a residence, located within 900 m of a hydraulic fracturing well pad that had been drilled prior to the study. Intermittent 24-hour air samples for 62 individual volatile organic compounds were also collected. The ambient air at both sites was monitored during four distinct periods of unconventional natural gas extraction activity: an inactive period prior to fracturing operations, during fracturing operations, during flaring operations, and during another inactive period after operations. The results of the continuous monitoring during fracturing and flaring sampling periods for total volatile organic compounds were similar to the results obtained during inactive periods. Total volatile organic compound 24-hour average concentrations ranged between 0.16 and 80 ppb during all sampling periods. Several individual volatile compounds were detected in the 24-hour samples, but they were consistent with background atmospheric levels measured previously at nearby sampling sites and in other areas in Washington County. Furthermore, a basic yet conservative screening level evaluation demonstrated that the detected volatile organic compounds were well below health-protective levels. The primary finding of this study was that the operation of a hydraulic fracturing well pad in Washington County did not substantially affect local air concentrations of total and individual volatile organic compounds.
Keywords: Air quality; Community monitoring; Continuous air monitoring; Hydraulic fracturing; Volatile organic compounds.