Study: Erie pollution higher than big metros

ERIE – Erie contains significantly higher levels of certain kinds of pollution associated with oil and gas development than Houston and Pasadena, Calif., a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist has found.

Erie, whose population is 18,000, contains greater levels of propane, methane and butane than both major metropolitan cities, NOAA scientist Steven Brown said. He recently completed a study on nationwide air quality and delivered some of his findings to the Erie Board of Trustees during its meeting Tuesday night.

By comparison, Houston’s population is approximately 2.1 million, and Pasadena’s is approximately 137,000. Pasadena is located about 10 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

Propane levels recorded in Erie in 2011 were an average 10 times higher than levels in Pasadena in 2010, Brown said. Air quality was measured for about a month in both areas.

Evidence shows that the pollution in Erie “likely” comes from oil and gas sources, Brown said, though he could not say for certain.

But Brown found that the town’s pollution levels increased during periods when wind came from the northeast, where oil and gas development is concentrated.

The study does not address the potential effects of the higher pollution levels.

“The evidence shows a clear influence of oil and gas emissions in the air in Erie, but we can’t really say just from that observation what the impacts are,” he said.
Encana, which develops natural gas in the area, first heard of the study Tuesday night, company spokesman Doug Hock said. The company had not had the opportunity to analyze the study yet, so Hock could not comment specifically on it.

“We are reaching out to the authors to better understand how they gathered and interpreted their data,” Hock said.

Based on state requirements enacted in 2008, Encana uses several kinds of equipment to reduce emissions, he said.

In addition to vapor recovery equipment and pneumatic devices on pumps, the company regularly maintains and inspects its ultraviolet cameras to detect and stop emissions that leak from its systems, he said.

Selling propane, butane and methane “is how we make money,” Hock said. “It’s in our best interest to ensure that we’re not letting them go out into the atmosphere.”

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