Northeastern Section - 54th Annual Meeting - 2019

Paper No. 48-2
Presentation Time: 8:20 AM


LARSON, Cecilia R.1, LANGENFELD, Betony2, FLOOD, Clara Margaret3 and SCHMIDT, Amanda H.1, (1)Geology, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH 44074, (2)Geology, Oberlin College, 52 West Lorain Street, Oberlin, OH 44074, (3)Department of Geology, Oberlin College, 52 West Lorain Street, Oberlin, OH 44074

Regulations on unconventional natural gas infrastructure, specifically the processes known as fracking, allow gas wellheads and compressor stations to be built within 500 ft and 750 ft of existing buildings, respectively. In Washington County, PA, wellheads are as close as 630 feet to public schools. This infrastructure is known to emit hazardous compounds such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and benzene, which are recorded by the Pennsylvania DEP yearly. In this study, we use GIS to analyze the spatial relationship between schools and fracking infrastructure in Washington County in order to create educational graphics for affected communities.

We used 2016 compressor station and wellhead locations with linked emissions data from the Pennsylvania DEP in conjunction with school locations to understand the proximity of schools to sources of hazardous airborne pollutants. Areas around infrastructure sites with radii corresponding to different regulatory and health limits were used in order to show how many schools overlap with each zone. We paired this analysis with the volumes of hazardous emissions from each site to visualize the potential health implications.

Of the 49 public schools in Washington County, PA, most are affected by wells and/or compressor stations. Thirteen lie within the standard evacuation radius of a wellhead (0.8 miles; 26.5%) while 38 schools (77.6%) lie within the 1.8 mile radius of wellheads within which negative birth outcomes, such as significant reduction in birth weights and gestational time, are statistically more common. The compressor stations, which produce roughly six times the total volume of emissions on average of the wellheads, have two schools within 0.8 miles (4.08%) and seven schools within 1.8 miles (14.3%). Six of these seven schools are also within at least 1.8 miles of a wellhead.

This spatial analysis gives insight into the number of schools impacted by potentially hazardous emissions and the intensity of emissions to which they are exposed. We used these data to produce instructive graphics that can be used for future educational outreach through the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project.