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Estimating Emissions of Toxic Hydrocarbons from Natural Gas Production Sites in the Barnett Shale Region of Northern Texas


Oil and natural gas operations have continued to expand and move closer to densely populated areas, contributing to growing public concerns regarding exposure to hazardous air pollutants. During the Barnett Shale Coordinated Campaign in October, 2013, ground-based whole air samples collected downwind of oil and gas sites revealed enhancements in several potentially toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when compared to background values. Molar emissions ratios relative to methane were determined for hexane, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX compounds). Using methane leak rates measured from the Picarro mobile flux plane (MFP) system and a Barnett Shale regional methane emissions inventory, the rates of emission of these toxic gases were calculated. Benzene emissions ranged between 51 ± 4 and 60 ± 4 kg h-1. Hexane, the most abundantly emitted pollutant, ranged from 642 ± 45 to 1070 ± 340 kg h-1. While observed hydrocarbon enhancements fall below federal workplace standards, results may indicate a link between emissions from oil and natural gas operations and concerns about exposure to hazardous air pollutants. The larger public health risks associated with the production and distribution of natural gas are of particular importance and warrant further investigation, particularly as the use of natural gas increases in the United States and internationally.

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