The environmental impacts of fracking on the atmosphere are complex. Air pollution is caused by smoke, dust, and vapors from the hydraulic fracturing process itself, and also by the later combustion of the produced fossil fuel, which releases greenhouse gas (GHG) such as carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere that contributes to global warming and climate change. Coal combustion is a far larger GHG contributor than natural gas and petroleum produced by fracking, but coal is mined. The issues of greenhouse gas and climate change are presented and discussed in later chapters.
The air pollution associated with fracking and other oil & gas operations falls into three main categories: (1) particulate matter, (2) organic gases, and (3) nitrogen oxides. Particulate matter or PM is defined by the EPA as a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. These are generally divided into two size classes: PM10 consists of particulates with diameters of 10 micrometers or less, and PM2.5 consists of even smaller particles with diameters equal to or less than 2 ½ micrometers. Broadly speaking, PM10 is dust, and PM2.5 is smoke. The smaller the particle, the deeper it can travel into the lungs. Sources of PM include diesel and other engine exhaust, tire, brake and road dust, and silica dust from proppant sand. Organic gases include volatile compounds like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes, and light hydrocarbons such as methane, ethane, propane, and butane. Nitrogen oxides or NOx are a byproduct of high-temperature combustion.
- Particulate matter
- Organic gases
- Nitrogen oxides
- Greenhouse gas
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout
Purchases are for personal use onlyLearn about institutional subscriptions
Allen, D. T. (2014). Atmospheric emissions and air quality impacts from natural gas production and use. Annual Review of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, 5, 55–75.
Allen, D. T. (2016). Emissions from oil and gas operations in the United States and their air quality implications. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, 66, 549–575. https://doi.org/10.1080/10962247.2016.1171263.
Allen, D. T., Sullivan, D. W., Zavala-Araiza, D., Pacsi, A. P., Harrison, M., Keen, K., Fraser, M. P., Hill, A. D., Lamb, B. K., Sawyer, R. F., & Seinfeld, J. H. (2015). Methane emissions from process equipment at natural gas production sites in the United States: Liquid unloadings. Environmental Science & Technology, 49(1), 641–648.
Allen, D. T., Cardoso-Saldaña, F. J., & Kimura, Y. (2017). Variability in spatially and temporally resolved emissions and hydrocarbon source fingerprints for oil and gas sources in shale gas production regions. Environmental Science & Technology, 51, 12016–12026.
Allshouse, W. B., McKenzie, L. M., Barton, K., Brindley, S., & Adgate, J. L. (2019). Community noise and air pollution exposure during the development of a multi-well oil and gas pad. Environmental Science & Technology, 53(12), 7126–7135.
Andreani, M., & Ménez, B. (2019). Chapter 15: New perspectives on abiotic organic synthesis and processing during hydrothermal alteration of the oceanic lithosphere. In B. Orcutt, I. Daniel, & R. Dasgupta (Eds.), Deep carbon: Past to present. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108677950.
Banan, Z., & Gernand, J. M. (2018). Evaluation of gas well setback policy in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania in relation to emissions of fine particulate matter. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, 68, 988–1000.
Bari, M. A., & Kindzierski, W. B. (2018). Ambient volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in Calgary, Alberta: Sources and screening health risk assessment. Science of the Total Environment, 631/632, 627–640. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.03.023.
Bradley, A., & Summons, R. E. (2010). Multiple origins of methane at the Lost City hydrothermal field. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 297, 34–41.
Buonocore, J., Arunachalam, A., Reka, S., Yang, D., Lyon, D. R., Hull, H., O’Connell, R., Roy, A., Trask, B., & Michanowicz, D. (2019). Air quality and health impacts of oil and gas emissions in the United States. (Abstract) presentation A41D-07, AGU Fall Meeting, 9–13 December, San Francisco, CA, USA, American Geophysical Union.
Butkovskyi, A., Bruning, H., Kools, S. A. E., Rijnaarts, H. H. M., & Van Wezel, A. P. (2017). Organic pollutants in shale gas flowback and produced waters: Identification, potential ecological impact, and implications for treatment strategies. Environmental Science & Technology, 51(9), 4740–4754.
Casey, J. A., Ogburn, E. L., Rasmussen, S. G., Irving, J. K., Pollak, J., Locke, P., & Schwartz, B. S. (2015). Predictors of indoor radon concentrations in Pennsylvania, 1989–2013. Environmental Health Perspectives, 123(11), 1130–1137.
Claypool, G. E., Threlkeld, C. N., & Magoon, L. B. (1980). Biogenic and thermogenic origins of natural gas in Cook Inlet basin, Alaska. AAPG Bulletin, 64(8), 1131–1139.
Cohen, A. J., Brauer, M., Burnett, R., Anderson, H. R., Frostad, J., Estep, K., Balakrishnan, K., Brunekreef, B., Dandona, L., Dandona, R., Feigin, V., Freedman, G., Hubbell, B., Jobling, A., Kan, H., Knibbs, L., Liu, Y., Martin, R., Morawska, L., Pope, A. C., Shin, H., Straif, K., Shaddick, G., Thomas, M., van Dingenen, R., van Donkelaar, A., Vos, T., Murray, C. J. L., & Forouzanfar, M. H. (2017). Estimates and 25-year trends of the global burden of disease attributable to ambient air pollution: An analysis of data from the global burden of diseases study 2015. Lancet, 389(10082), 1907–1918.
Eisele, A. P., Mukerjee, S., Smith, L. A., Thoma, E. D., Whitaker, D. A., & Oliver, K. D. (2016). Volatile organic compounds at two oil and natural gas production well pads in Colorado and Texas using passive samplers. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, 66, 412–419. https://doi.org/10.1080/10962247.2016.1141808.
Franklin, M., Chau, K., Cushing, L. J., & Johnston, J. E. (2019). Characterizing flaring from unconventional oil and gas operations in south Texas using satellite observations. Environmental Science & Technology, 53(4), 2220–2228.
Garcia-Gonzales, D. A., Shamasunder, B., & Jerrett, M. (2019). Distance decay gradients in hazardous air pollution concentrations around oil and natural gas facilities in the city of Los Angeles: A pilot study. Environmental Research, 173, 232–236.
Goetz, J. D., Floerchinger, C., Fortner, E. C., Wormhoudt, J., Massoli, P., & Knighton, W. B. (2015). Atmospheric emission characterization of Marcellus shale natural gas development sites. Environmental Science & Technology, 49, 7012–7020.
Goetz, J. D., Avery, A., Werden, B., Floerchinger, C., Fortner, E. C., Wormhoudt, J., Massoli, P., Herndon, S. C., Kolb, C. E., Knighton, W. B., Peischl, J., Warneke, C., de Gouw, J. A., Shaw, S. L., & DeCarlo, P. F. (2017). Analysis of local-scale background concentrations of methane and other gas-phase species in the Marcellus shale. Elementa Science of the Anthropocene, 5, 1. https://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.182.
HEI (Health Effects Institute). (2019). Human exposure to unconventional oil and gas development: A literature survey for research planning: Special report 2 (Draft for Public Comment): Boston, HEI-Energy Research Committee, 108 p. www.hei-energy.org
Horwell, C. J., Williamson, B. J., Donaldson, K., Le Blond, J. S., Damby, D. E., & Bowen, L. (2012). The structure of volcanic cristobalite in relation to its toxicity: Relevance for the variable crystalline silica hazard. Particle and Fibre Toxicology, 9, article no. 44. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-8977-9-44.
Johnson, D., Heltzel, R., & Oliver, D. (2019). Temporal variations in methane emissions from an unconventional well site. ACS Omega, 4, 3708–3715.
Jones, J. B., & Segnit, E. R. (1972). Genesis of cristobalite and tridymite at low temperatures. Journal of the Geological Society of Australia, 18(4), 419–422. https://doi.org/10.1080/00167617208728780.
Ladd, J. H. (2001). Chapter 4: An overview and development history of the Wattenberg field. In D. S. Anderson, J. W. Robinson, J. E. Estes-Jackson, & E. B. Coalson (Eds.), Gas in the rockies (pp. 29–42). Denver: Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists.
Litovitz, A., Curtright, A., Abramzon, S., Burger, N., & Samaras, C. (2013). Estimation of regional air-quality damages from Marcellus shale natural gas extraction in Pennsylvania. Environmental Research Letters, 8, 1–8.
Luck, B., Zimmerle, D., Vaughn, T., Lauderdale, T., Keen, K., & Harrison, M. (2019). Multiday measurements of pneumatic controller emissions reveal the frequency of abnormal emissions behavior at natural gas gathering stations. Environmental Science & Technology Letters, 6, 348–352. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.9b00158.
Maskrey, J. R., Insley, A. L., Hynds, E. S., & Panko, J. M. (2016). Air monitoring of volatile organic compounds at relevant receptors during hydraulic fracturing operations in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 188, 410., 12 p. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-016-5410-4.
Moore, C. W., Zielinska, B., Pétron, G., & Jackson, R. B. (2014). Air impacts of increased natural gas acquisition, processing, and use: A critical review. Environmental Science and Technology, 48, 8349–8359. https://doi.org/10.1021/es4053472.
Moore, M. T., Vinson, D. S., Whyte, C. J., Eymold, W. K., Walsh, T. B., & Darrah, T. H. (2018). Differentiating between biogenic and thermogenic sources of natural gas in coalbed methane reservoirs from the Illinois Basin using noble gas and hydrocarbon geochemistry. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 468, 151–188. https://doi.org/10.1144/SP468.8.
Nathan, B., Golston, L., O’Brien, A., Ross, K., Harrison, W., & Tao, L. (2015). Near-field characterization of methane emission variability from a compressor station using a model aircraft. Environmental Science & Technology, 49, 7896–7903.
Nsanzineza, R., Capps, S. L., & Milford, J. B. (2019). Modeling emissions and ozone air quality impacts of future scenarios for energy and power production in the Rocky Mountain states. Environmental Science & Technology, 53(13), 7893–7902.
Omara, M., Zimmerman, N., Sullivan, M. R., Li, X., Ellis, A., & Cesa, R. (2018). Methane emissions from 23 natural gas production sites in the United States: Data synthesis and national estimate. Environmental Science & Technology, 52, 12915–12925.
Pekney, N., Veloski, G., Reeder, M., Tamila, J., Rupp, E., & Wetzel, A. (2014). Measurement of atmospheric pollutants associated with oil and natural gas exploration and production activity in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, 64(9). https://doi.org/10.1080/10962247.2014.897270.
Pekney, N., Reeder, M., & Mundia-Howe, M. (2018). Air quality measurements at the Marcellus shale energy and environment laboratory site. EM The Magazine for Environmental Managers, August 2018, Air & Waste Management Association, 5 p.
Pétron, G., Frost, G., Miller, B. R., Hirsch, A. I., Montzka, S. A., Karion, A., Trainer, M., Sweeney, C., Andrews, A. E., Miller, L., Kofler, J., Bar-Ilan, A., Dlugokencky, E. J., Patrick, L., Moore, C. T., Jr., Ryerson, T. B., Siso, C., Kolodzey, W., Lang, P. M., Conway, T., Novelli, P., Masarie, K., Hall, B., Guenther, D., Kitzis, D., Miller, J., Welsh, D., Wolfe, D., Neff, W., & Tans, P. (2012). Hydrocarbon emissions characterization in the Colorado Front Range: A pilot study. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, 117(D4) 19 p. https://doi.org/10.1029/2011JD016360.
Pétron, G., Karion, A., Sweeney, C., Miller, B. R., Montzka, S. A., Frost, G. J., Trainer, M., Tans, P., Andrews, A., Kofler, J., Helmig, D., Guenther, D., Dlugokencky, E., Lang, P., Newberger, T., Wolter, S., Hall, B., Novelli, P., Brewer, A., Conley, S., Hardesty, M., Banta, R., White, A., Noone, D., Wolfe, D., & Schnell, R. (2014). A new look at methane and non-methane hydrocarbon emissions from oil and natural gas operations in the Colorado Denver-Julesburg Basin. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, 119, 6836–6852.
Pinti, D. L., Gelinas, Y., Moritz, A. M., Larocque, M., & Sano, Y. (2016). Anthropogenic and natural methane emissions from a shale gas exploration area of Quebec, Canada. Science of the Total Environment, 566-567, 1329–1338.
Ravikumar, A.P., Barlow, B., Wang, J., & Singh, D. (2019). Results of the Alberta methane measurement campaigns: New insights into oil and gas methane mitigation policy. (Abstract) presentation A41D-08, AGU Fall Meeting, 9–13 December, San Francisco, CA, USA, American Geophysical Union.
Ren, X. R., Hall, D. L., Vinciguerra, T., Benish, S. E., Stratton, P. R., & Ahn, D. (2019). Methane emissions from the Marcellus shale in southwestern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia based on 26 airborne measurements. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, 124, 1862–1878.
Rich, A. L., & Orimoloye, H. T. (2016). Elevated atmospheric levels of benzene and benzene-related compounds from unconventional shale extraction and processing: Human health concern for residential communities. Environmental Health Insights, 10, 75–82.
Schwarz, J. P., Holloway, J. S., Katich, J. M., McKeen, S., Kort, E. A., & Smith, M. L. (2015). Black carbon emissions from the Bakken oil and gas development region. Environmental Science & Technology Letters, 2, 281–285.
Soeder, D. J., & Kent, D. B. (2018). When oil and water mix: Understanding the environmental impacts of shale development. GSA Today, 28(9), 4–10.
Stolper, D. A., Martini, A. M., Clog, M., Douglas, P. M., Shusta, S. S., Valentine, D. L., Sessions, A. L., & Eiler, J. M. (2015). Distinguishing and understanding thermogenic and biogenic sources of methane using multiply substituted isotopologues. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 161, 219–247.
Townsend-Small, A., Marrero, J. E., Lyon, D. R., Simpson, I. J., Meinardi, S., & Blake, D. R. (2015). Integrating source apportionment tracers into a bottom-up inventory of methane emissions in the Barnett shale hydraulic fracturing region. Environmental Science & Technology, 49, 8175–8182.
Vaughn, T. L., Bell, C. S., Pickering, C. K., Schwietzke, S., Heath, G. A., & Pétron, G. (2018). Temporal variability largely explains top-down/bottom-up difference in methane emission estimates from a natural gas production region. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115, 11712–11717.
Vinciguerra, T., Yao, S., Dadzie, J., Chittams, A., Deskins, T., & Ehrman, S. (2015). Regional air quality impacts of hydraulic fracturing and shale natural gas activity: Evidence from ambient VOC observations. Atmospheric Environment, 110, 144–150. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2015.03.056.
Watson, T., & Bachu, S. (2009). Evaluation of the potential for gas and CO2 leakage along wellbores. SPE Drilling & Completion, 24(1), 115–126. (SPE 106817).
Williams, P. J., Reeder, M., Pekney, N. J., Risk, D., Osborne, J., & McCawley, M. (2018). Atmospheric impacts of a natural gas development within the urban context of Morgantown, West Virginia. Science of the Total Environment, 639, 406–416. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.04.422.
Xu, Y., Sajja, M., & Kumar, A. (2019). Impact of the hydraulic fracturing on indoor radon concentrations in Ohio: A multilevel modeling approach. Frontiers in Public Health, 7, 76. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2019.00076.
Zavala-Araiza, D., Sullivan, D. W., & Allen, D. T. (2014). Atmospheric hydrocarbon emissions and concentrations in the Barnett shale natural gas production region. Environmental Science & Technology, 48(9), 5314–5321. https://doi.org/10.1021/es405770h.
Zielinska, B., Campbell, D., & Samburova, V. (2014). Impact of emissions from natural gas production facilities on ambient air quality in the Barnett shale area: A pilot study. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, 64, 1369–1383. https://doi.org/10.1080/10962247.2014.954735.
© 2021 Springer Nature Switzerland AG
About this chapter
Cite this chapter
Soeder, D.J. (2021). Fracking and Air Quality. In: Fracking and the Environment. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-59121-2_5
Publisher Name: Springer, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-030-59120-5
Online ISBN: 978-3-030-59121-2