Air pollution increased 274% during pre-fracking operations at Kirby Misperton – new study

Preparation for fracking at a site in a North Yorkshire village saw nitrogen oxides pollution peak to levels comparable with the morning rush hour in North Kensington, research has revealed.

Preparation of the Kirby Misperton fracking site, February 2018. Photo: Eddie Thornton

The well at Kirby Misperton was not fracked because consent was never granted. But the site was prepared over a period of nearly five months.

During this time, scientists from York and Manchester universities monitored air quality 45m from the well head. They recorded 274% increases in nitrogen oxides (NOx) over what would have been expected if site preparation had not happened.

They said wellpad preparation was a key phase in shale gas extraction and should be included in environmental assessments.

“This [pre-operational phase] is rarely investigated as air quality evaluation typically focus on the extraction phase.”

The researchers said the preparation phase is often longer than hydraulic fracturing and can represent a significant proportion of the well’s lifecycle.

The Kirby Misperton research previously reported that most of the air pollution was from vehicle emissions.

Deliveries to the Kirby Misperton fracking site, February 2018. Photo: Steve Spy

In the latest study, researchers said the increase in traffic generated by preparation stages at fracking sites was often noted but the impacts were rarely quantified. They said:

“Constructing and operating a shale gas well requires a large amount of above ground infrastructure and equipment, which must be transported to the well pad.

“The resultant traffic load and subsequent on-site activity introduces an additional source of air pollutants to the local environment prior to any hydraulic fracturing.”

The researchers said there were “significant changes in the on-site infrastructure occurred at KM [Kirby Misperton] during September 2017”.

Equipment brought onto the site included drilling rigs, pumps, compressors, diesel generators, storage containers. A sound barrier of shipping containers was also constructed.

The study said:

“In addition to the increase in equipment and activity on the site itself, traffic volume due to delivery trucks increased, along with additional idling vehicles in close vicinity to the site from protest activities, as well as a high volume of policing and media interest.”

The planned Kirby Misperton frack was in a pre-existing well on an already-constructed site.

But the study, to be published in Science of the Total Environment, said:

“for brand new wells, the preparation phase would be significantly longer since it would include building the above ground infrastructure, which may require clearing trees, levelling the surface, constructing access roads and laying the well pad itself.

“Therefore an extended period of preparation is likely to result in larger changes than those reported here.”

NOx pollution can damage lung tissue and contribute to breathing and respiratory problems.

The research had previously found that the components of NOx changed as preparation work began at Kirby Misperton.

Before the pre-operational stage, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was in higher concentration than nitric oxide (NO) from exhaust pipes. This suggested that NO emissions from the nearest main road had time oxidise to NO2 before it was recorded by the monitoring equipment on the fracking site.

In September 2017, the trend reversed and NO began to dominate the NOx. This suggested that the NO vehicle emissions were mainly on the fracking site and did not have time to oxidise into NO2 before they were recorded .

The researchers said the air pollution levels at Kirby Misperton were below UK limits. But they said: “if pre-operational activities were extended and persisted for an entire year, it’s expected that nitrogen dioxide would have exceeded World Health Organisation guidelines for 2021″.

Other recent health studies

Exposure to unconventional oil and gas development and all-cause mortality in Medicare beneficiaries
Longxiang Li, Francesca Dominici, Annelise J. Blomberg, Falco J. Bargagli-Stoffi, Joel D. Schwartz, Brent A. Coull, John D. Spengler, Yaguang Wei, Joy Lawrence & Petros Koutrakis
Nature Energy February 2022
This study looked at more than 15 million Medicare beneficiaries in all US unconventional exploration regions from 2001-2015 and their exposure to air pollution from unconventional oil and gas wells. The researchers found evidence of a statistically significant higher mortality risk from living near and downwind of the wells. The results suggested that primary air pollutants from unconventional oil and gas exploration could be a major exposure pathway with adverse health effects in the elderly.

Unconventional Oil and Gas Development Exposure and Risk of Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: A Case–Control Study in Pennsylvania, 2009–2017
Cassandra J. Clark, Nicholaus P. Johnson, Mario Soriano Jr, Joshua L. Warren, Keli M. Sorrentino, Nina S. Kadan-Lottick, James E. Saiers, Xiaomei Ma, and Nicole C. Deziel
Environmental Health Perspectives, August 2022
This study by Yale School of Public Health found that young children living near fracking wells at birth were up to three times more likely to develop leukemia. It concluded that the risk was highest for those living with 2km of a fracking site and who were exposed before birth. The findings were based on more than 400 cases of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, from a sample fo around 2,500 children in Pennsylvania aged 2-7.

Assessing Unconventional Oil and Gas Exposure in the Appalachian Basin: Comparison of Exposure Surrogates and Residential Drinking Water Measurements
Cassandra J. Clark, Boya Xiong, Mario A. Soriano Jr.Mario A. Soriano, Jr, Kristina Gutchess, Helen G. Siegel, Emma C. Ryan, Nicholaus P. Johnson, Kelsie Cassell, Elise G. Elliott, Yunpo Li, Austin J. Cox, Nicolette Bugher, Lukas Glist, Rebecca J. Brenneis, Keli M. Sorrentino, Julie Plano, Xiaomei Ma, Joshua L. Warren, Desiree L. Plata, James E. Saiers, and Nicole C. Deziel
Environmental Science & Technology, January 2022
This study, also by Yale researchers, found that in Pennsylvania, 10 organic compounds related to unconventional oil and gas development were detected in the drinking water of at least 20% of homes, while in Ohio, six were found in at least 20% of homes. None of the chemicals exceeded the maximum contaminant limits in either state. 17 inorganic chemicals related to unconventional oil and gas were found in at least 20% of Pennsylvanian homes, while 14 were found in Ohio homes.

Human carcinogenic risk analysis and utilization of shale gas water-based drilling cuttings in road materials
Chao-qiang Wang, Shen Chen, De-ming Huang, Qi-cong Huang, Min-jie Tu, Kai Wu & Yan-yan Liu
Environmental Science and Pollution Research, September 2022
This Chinese study found that an unacceptable risk of cancer from skin contact with particulates from the use of water-based drill cuttings on roads. The researchers said the cancer risk was acceptable from exposure to single pollutants benzo(a)anthracene, benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(k)fluoranthene, and indeno(1,2,3- cd)pyrene. But the cumulative carcinogenic risk of exposure to dibenzo(a,h)anthracene particles via skin exposure was not acceptable, the study found.

34 replies »

  1. OMG, I need to cancel my on- line shopping deliveries, using my plastic keyboard.

    Everyone back to their yurts-and short life expectancy.

    Here’s a thought-if there is concern about emissions from transport why add thousands of miles to transportation of gas? Why add thousands of miles to protestors travelling?

    (I seem to recall there was also some data that referred to the pollution caused by large numbers of protestors gathering at KM. I also recall comments on this site previously advising visitors to various events at PNR where they could park, and then follow up comments about the distances some had travelled to attend!)

    • Martin,
      Residents at PNR, Little Plumpton who live 300 metres from the site are not just worried about the thousands of diesel- truck transportations. Active fracking also involves numerous on-site diesel compressors releasing harmful air pollutants.
      Fracking also generates elevated concentrations of geogenic benzene[s] in the atmosphere. In one study, the 24-hour benzene concentrations ranged from 0.6 parts per billion by volume (ppbv) to 592 ppbv, with 1-hour concentrations from 2.94 ppbv to 2,900.20 ppbv. Benzene is a known human carcinogen capable of multisystem health effects. Exposure to benzene is correlated with bone marrow and blood-forming organ damage, myelodysplasia, leukaemia and immune system depression. Sensitive populations (children, pregnant women, elderly, immunocompromised) and occupational workers are at increased risk for adverse health effects from elevated atmospheric levels of benzene[s] in residential areas with fracking.

      Rich AL, Orimoloye HT. Elevated Atmospheric Levels of Benzene and Benzene-Related Compounds from Unconventional Shale Extraction and Processing: Human Health Concern for Residential Communities. Environmental Health Insights. 2016;10. doi:10.4137/EHI.S33314

      • Frank, the article you reference suggests that the correlation they found (and correlation is not cause) was due to contamination of drinking water. Is there any evidence that the drinking water consumed by the good people of Little Plumpton comes from anywhere nearby, I suspect that it is more likely to come from a Lake District reservoir where the worst they can be exposed to is the run off from the old arsenic, zinc and lead workings in the area. Hope that’s reassuring.

  2. It’s very simple, Martin, at least in theory. Our democracy’s weaknesses have become clear, as clear as is the fact that certain are immune to rational scientific or humanitarian argument when their pockets are brought into play. Extreme situations, the potential demise of democracy, the rise of authoritarian autocracy call for unusual counter-action (as has been argued many times), even action which at face value flies in the face of the arguments offered, rendering itself liable to cynical accusations of hypocrisy (and lots of silly non-arguments.)

  3. I am so concerned to see how damage to health continues from fracking operations and even prep for them, when the scientific evidence about harms has been so clear and available to the public for so long. I am a geneticist by training, and was, and am, increasingly alarmed at the evironmental damage and the undeniable harms to our health of fracking. It is now 10 years since I wrote “Brindle 24”, a speculative novel, about the many tragic things that could happen to a small town family due to fracking – all based on the real news about fracking, but put in a fictional setting much like my childhood home in Freehold, New York, US. It is hard to imagine that with all we now know, it is still going on. Thank you for this informative blog post and for the many new references here. – Jennifer ( Author J.J.Brown)

  4. OMG, 1720. Have you given up on your soap box and just transferred to DoD? It is amusing to observe the way DoD is utilized/abused to put forward particular and peculiar political/social views but does little to take the subject forward.

    Yes, our democracy’s weaknesses have become clear. Everyone paying their energy bills can see it. Those who have caused it are pontificating, those who are struggling with the clarity will not forgive.

    As for Frank with his medical “evidence” from USA then perhaps include evidence from USA regarding many other medical matters that are not transferred to UK-fortunately. Diesel compressors? Well Frank I have a son who works in the building trade, and they decided on their building site to trial battery powered diggers. All very green? Well, apart from the diesel- powered generator to charge the batteries! With a strong chance the diesel was imported from Russia. Over in the N.East last winter they were desperate for diesel generators after power had been cut to large areas. [Edited by moderator]

    Frank, you are just following the selenium false trail. Remember that one? I do. PNR was likely to unleash uncontrolled volumes of selenium upon the locals, except there wasn’t any! So many wolves unleashed around PNR, and so many willing to do so.

    (Cobalt is a known carcinogen though, Frank. No wonder reaction is hanging on to his 3- liter BMW diesel!)

    Going back to the building trade, remember all that nonsense around Dunsfold and exploration for gas? The same Dunsfold where 3000 new houses are scheduled. They will not be yurts. There will be many HGVs and many diesel-powered machines used to build them. Such is “progress”. Never mind, more householders to pay for costs incurred by local councils, although I suspect they would prefer it was spent on something else.

    • Hi Martin

      Talking of following false trails – I think there are few (if any) people on this site arguing that we should stop all oil and gas extraction now. No-one, least of all anyone in the medical profession, is saying people should freeze to death due to lack of fuel, nor that we abandon overnight the use of plastics in keyboards, medicine etc. You appear to be using a “straw man” technique – ascribing exaggerated opinions to others so you can then demolish them

      We do however need to move away from using fossil fuels as quickly as possible, and one approach people do argue for is stopping the exploration and exploitation of new oil and gas fields. The hope is that this would reduce the overall use of oil, gas and plastic by encouraging the use of new materials and techniques (as we have seen in the packaging industry).

      • Well Paul you may hope, but the price elasticity for oil and gas being shown at the moment is what I will consider, not your hope. You can watch TV as well and watch all those stating their weekly petrol bill is now £100 instead of £60 and what they are having to do without to pay for it. Equally those who are having to choose whether they eat to enable their children to keep warm. Not in a third world country but in the UK Paul.

        You should consider the damage your false hope is doing to real people’s lives rather than trying to dismiss concern about that as a straw man technique. Renewables are not ready to replace fossil fuel .and will not be for many years to come. “We” do not need to move away from fossil fuel until there are adequate alternatives in place. Another £160B for new nuclear will take 30 years to be in place Paul. Those are facts, not straw men arguments. I will welcome the day that is the case, but it will not appear in my lifetime. What may appear in my lifetime is a lot of hydrogen produced from investment by fossil fuel companies. Meanwhile, I have three monthly direct debits to my younger loved ones to help pay their energy bills to compensate for the folly shown by yourself and others. They are bright enough to know if they buy locally, they do not increase consumption of what they buy-they just buy locally. Not sure they would declare yours to be a straw man argument denying that. I suspect they would use language that you would moderate.

        Reference the packaging industry. As I suffer from arthritis in my hands I welcome less/modified packaging but have also discussed the type and requirement for packaging with supermarkets, when I was marketing product to them. The biggest problem to them are idiots who wish to contaminate their products and claim money to identify where and when. So, they protect the product against some idiots, and the price is paid by all. I make sure the packaging I receive is disposed of correctly. It is created by humans because of humans. It is up to humans to deal with it, it is not the fault of the material.

  5. Martin,

    Your intemperate ad hominem comments have again been noted.
    Others may judge the strength of your arguments.

    However please indicate where I have ever mentioned ”selenium” ?

    The scientific evidence for carcinogenic benzene being released into the air at fracking sites has never been contested. Geogenic benzene is one of the components of fugitive Volatile Organic Compound emissions admitted by the industry.

    Benzene is toxic and causes leukaemia. and myelodysplasia.

    The prestigious Yale University School of Public Health found that young children living near fracking wells at birth were up to three times more likely to develop leukemia. It concluded that the risk was highest for those living with 2km of a fracking site and who were exposed before birth. The findings were based on more than 400 cases of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, from a sample of around 2,500 children in Pennsylvania aged 2-7.

    This was a gold-standard case controlled study Rather better evidence than yours, Martin.

    This is of real concern to the residents of Preston New Road, Little Plumpton who do not wish to live 300 metres from an active fracking site.

    • Of course they do, Frank. Some may agree with them, some may agree with you.

      However, just because you missed seleniumgate I would suggest that is your lack of knowledge about the scare stories previously suggested around PNR. I don’t believe I directed that one at yourself. I used the term “the” not “your” and then added “so many willing to do so.”

      The difference with the selenium one is that wolf was suggested to frequent PNR, not Pennsylvania. There are a lot of activities in Pennsylvania that would be precluded in UK, Frank. Is the UK going to stop production of chicken because in USA they might chlorine wash chicken? Is the UK going to stop beef production because of how beef may be produced in USA? Can’t see it, Frank, when UK is not willing to stop cobalt being used for EVs but looks to try and make sure controls are in place to mitigate.

      • Martin:
        For the benefit of other readers, please state your own expertise and qualifications in medical science or public health to opine with such apparent authority against the findings of such prestigious institutions as Yale University ?
        However, I suspect that your persistent intemperate language has already given the game away.
        Cuadrilla did not ”preclude” constructing a fracking site 300 metres from residents in Little Plumpton.
        Fracking emits benzene. Benzene causes Leukaemia.
        (I am a retired consultant haematologist with many years experience, including published work on the harms of another chemical toxin on the bone marrow)

        • Well Frank, for the benefit of other readers please state your own knowledge of the oil and gas industry.

          As I clearly stated, and you wished to divert from, what may be researched and reported in USA is the USA, Frank. Standards and monitoring are somewhat different in UK. On many things Frank.

          • Martin,
            To quote another authority: Oh dear, oh dear !
            Others will see that your statement is sophistry Martin. It is you who wish ‘to divert’:
            You cannot claim that there will be certain benefits from UK fracking, without any of the toxic hazards experienced in the USA.
            Benzene IS emitted from fracking sites.
            The chemistry and toxicity to humans of benzene is universal/ global: As toxic in the UK, as in the USA, as in any other country. For example a (non-fracking) study of Chinese industrial workers exposed to benzene reported in this prestigious journal:
            Linet MS et al Benzene Exposure Response and Risk of Myeloid Neoplasms in Chinese Workers: A Multicenter Case–Cohort Study JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 111, Issue 5, May 2019, Pages 465–474,

        • Well Frank, that would also be the benzene which is produced from forest fires. Now, what produces a lot of forest fires in USA? Oh yes. Electricity distribution! Now, I have given reference to that previously Frank so I am sure you will now be familiar with that, (eg. over 4000 in last 3.5 years reported in Texas in 2014 by the Texas Wildfire Mitigation Project.)

          So, electricity distribution in USA needs some better standards and controls Frank and not only would benzene production be reduced but lives would be saved. Maybe they will get around to it one day, but in the meantime here in the UK electricity distribution seems manageable without forest fires and resulting loss of life.

          Perhaps extrapolating from over the horizon is not always scientifically sound Frank? Unless you also have data to show there were extra orgies taking place around PNR, as I recall a “study” that suggested increased sexual activity around US fracking sites. Don’t post if you have confirmation as PNR local house prices could go through the roof!

          I am not saying that all emissions would be absent from UK fracking sites, Frank. They will not be absent from KM geothermal sites, either. What I am questioning is how you can extrapolate they will be anywhere equivalent to those from US fracking sites. Sorry, but a title and a bit of Latin doesn’t do that for me. Goodness, Frank, there are a load of US fracking sites where the gas is a waste product and just allowed to vent, because they have so much of it and their environmental controls are lax, they can afford to do that. Your qualifications do not overcome common sense and a bit of awareness around differences between USA and UK. Land of the free-and a free for all in some respects.
          Would you try and tell the readers if cobalt was discovered in UK the kids would be out of primary school scraping it out of the ground and paid a pittance for risking their lives?

          • Sorry Martin, but your unreferenced opinions that fracking in UK will be safe & wonderful, don’t do it for me either.
            (or for many who had no choice in living so close to an emitting fracking site at PNR, Little Plumpton)
            We were previously reassured by Cuadrilla that an induced earthquake above 0.5ML would be extremely unlikely.
            But in fact, we experienced a 2.9 ML fracking induced earthquake ”caused by a fault that could not have been detected on survey data.” There were 197 reports of structural or household damage to the British Geological Survey (BGS)
            Cuadrilla has not revealed how many complaints it received, nor the value of any damage or compensation paid.
            The BGS said it also received several thousand reports from people who felt the earthquake.
            BGS recorded the seismicity at intensity level 6:
            ”Intensity 6: Felt by all with some minor structural damage eg fallen chimneys etc.”

            • Frank, I have never said fracking would be safe and wonderful. That is just distortion.

              There is no form of energy generation that is safe and wonderful. How many people die in the UK each year from electrocution? How many signs are manufactured in UK to warn people to avoid certain areas where there is danger of death from electrocution? I have one in my garden! Are you unaware of Sellafield?

              The point with any energy generation is how safe and wonderful is it relative to other cost- effective means of generation. I don’t believe two tests in UK which produced particular results are sufficient to declare whether it can be done with acceptable risk, or not. You obviously have a Nimby axe to grind but you may do better to grind it by not trying to extrapolate US reports to UK to make up for the lack of UK data. It doesn’t.

      • Wasn’t concern over selenium (see an example of the precautionary principle, Martin? (Considering possible risks before going ahead with something).

        And don’t we have a ban on chlorinated chicken and controls on the use of cobalt due to people discussing these risks in the past?

        I remember going to a meeting on fracking in 2013. When a member of the audience asked about fracking possibly triggering earthquakes, the presenter (representing the oil and gas industry) laughed and dismissed the possibility. Perhaps the industry should have considered the risk more seriously.

        • The precautionary principle!!

          Come on Paul. It was pure scare mongering based upon pure speculation, and then shown to be totally inappropriate. What some may refer to as a straw man argument. Bit like that missed reservoir that was valid as a third party had put the idea forward.

          “We” have a ban on chlorinated chicken as a residue of the EU. Nothing to do with risk. Actually, when that ban was put in place the EU was much smaller and there were only two significant countries as producers of chicken, UK and France. Both were unable to compete with USA on cost of production, one wanted a ban and obtained it. The other didn’t vote for a ban as they could not agree that it was scientifically justified! Guess which country did what? Now I have no reason to want to put UK chicken producers out of business and allow cheap US chicken to be imported without controls, but I have experience of both countries production and would happily scoff US chicken and UK chicken but be a little reluctant regarding the French ones.
          Will be interesting to observe what happens when the issue resurfaces within a trade deal, as very few chicken are washed with chlorine now in USA but more with lactic acid, which is the same material as used in other meat processing in UK. Probably be as much confusion as there was about chorine okay in salad crops but not chicken.

          Controls on the use of cobalt? Yes, in some industries. I worked in one where we removed it as soon as it was classified as a carcinogen. Please tell me though Paul whether the car manufacturers have been successful in removing all cobalt from EVs that comes via child labour handling a known carcinogen in the DRC, as the Chinese are still buying/stealing it at low prices to put it somewhere and the car industry for all their holier than thou claims are incorporating it. Knowingly, or unknowingly.

          Earthquakes or seismic activity. You mean like in Cornwall from geothermal exploration? Look out KM! And after that, then look at Germany and subsidence from geothermal. Hope that industry is considering the risk, but based upon the evidence, perhaps there should be a moratorium on a precautionary basis?

  6. Welcome Jennifer. I am sure sales of your novel will rocket now, although there is some competition from other fiction on this site.

    Thanks though for all of that gas being sent across to us and the rest of Europe. Interestingly that is somehow ignored within the subject of this section even though it is about transport emissions. Even with that boost to your economy I suspect Biden will find the Mid Terms reflect too little, too late.
    I do hope that people in USA can afford to buy books. Should be able to do so with gas at $7 per MMBtu on the Henry Hub. However, with same gas at $47 per MMBtu on the Dutch TTF, plus all those transport emissions produced to get it there, there will be people over here (literally, if you will excuse that pun) only able to access your novel whilst visiting a library to keep warm this winter. Yes, here in the UK warm rooms are really being planned for this winter, and warnings of power cuts already given. Probably also the end of “working”, from home, and increased attendance at school after hours clubs so a cloud with a silver lining.

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