Fracking and Air Pollution

Shafter, California is located in Kern County which is at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. Air pollution in this area is generally considered to be the worst in the nation. Pollution levels vary in Kern County according to location. For example, Shafter, in the center of the valley floor, located far from major highways, and upwind of Bakersfield, has significantly cleaner air than Edison which is alongside Hwy 58, close to the eastern valley foothills, and downwind of Bakersfield.

Both Shafter and Edison have ozone monitors. The ozone levels are highest in August and September at both locations. Ozone is always worse at Edison but the levels track each other when the two sets of monitor readings are compared. The graph below shows the past six years of average ozone levels at each monitor for the months of August and September.


Each summer, when Edison ozone levels increase or decrease, Shafter follows suit. The fact that levels at both places seem to be climbing over the past few years will be the subject of another discussion. Suffice it to say that valley air board claims of improving air quality are subject to dispute when recent trends like these are examined.

Anyway, from 2007 to 2011 the two monitors represented by this graph follow each other.  In 2012 they diverge.  The question is what made the difference.  Edison ozone levels improved while Shafter’s got worse.

It happens that there have been a lot of new wells drilled and fracked on the north side of Shafter recently. Approximately 35 wells in the 27 months between January 2011 and March 2013. Some of these wells are right in the city limits and others just a mile or two north. About half a mile north of the town is the central processing plant for all these wells.  There are oil tanks which vent volatile organic compounds (VOCs) continuously and a large flare on a 20 foot pipe which burns unwanted gases continuously and emits both NOx and VOCs. NOx and VOCs are the two ingredients that make ozone when there is also plentiful sunshine and high enough air temperatures.

Last August and September, just when ozone levels are normally at their peak, the flare at this location was roaring.  A 20 foot flame that sounded like a jet engine was burning as much as 3 million cubic feet of gas per day for the entire two months. The emissions from this flare during this time can be measured in the tons for both NOx and VOCs.  It was equivalent to thousands of diesel trucks passing through Shafter daily. This is the most likely explanation for why ozone levels were higher in Shafter during those two months.

Below is a video of this flare during that time.

In conclusion, the fracking in Shafter is causing a lot of air pollution among many other concerns.  It is literally killing some people.

1 thought on “Fracking and Air Pollution

  1. Pingback: Fracking and Air Pollution | Air Hugger

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