Study examines pollutants at W.Va. drilling sites

WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) — A recent study found benzene and other pollutants in the air at seven natural gas drilling sites in three counties.

But the study by West Virginia University Public School of Health chairman Michael McCawley found only one site where there was concern, the Maury pad in Wetzel County where high levels of benzene were found.

Benzene levels at the Maury pad were 85 parts per billion, compared to a normal range between one and 30 parts per billion. There was more diesel truck activity at the Maury and the trucks could have produced most of the benzene detected, said McCawley.

McCawley released the findings Friday during a public health conference at Ogelbay Park, The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register reported.

He said benzene levels at the other drilling sites in Wetzel, Marion and Brooke counties were more like the exposure one would experience living in a city.

“Benzene is a carcinogen and causes leukemia,” McCawley said. “There is no level at which there is no risk. However, the lower the level, the lower the risk is likely to be. … In the debates to follow this, people will be talking about this at their own level of subjectivity.”

The study, which was conducted for the state Department of Environmental Protection, also examined light emissions, dust and noise levels, and airborne radiation levels at the drilling sites in Wetzel, Brooke and Marion counties.

The DEP said in a report submitted Friday to legislative leaders that no new rules regarding air quality near horizontal drilling pads are needed at this time, according to The State Journal (

McCawley said a similar study is expected in other Northern Panhandle counties. It will also include diesel emissions and long-term health data from local hospitals.

“The concern I have with noise and populations is that studies have shown that interfering with sleep, as noise can do, can cause a rise in hypertension,” McCawley said. “We have problems with hypertension already here in West Virginia. The levels that can interfere with sleep are above 55 decibels. … The noise on the pad when they are fracking runs about 120-130 decibels. That’s enough to cause serious damage and enough to be painful if not wearing protection.”

The study was one of three mandated by the Legislature during a special session in December 2011.