By CASEY JUNKINS
BARNESVILLE, Ohio - Yale University researchers plan to take air and water samples from 100 Belmont County homes to determine how Marcellus and Utica shale fracking impacts the environment.
Considering the many active drilling operations, pipelines and compressor stations one can find in Belmont County, the researchers may find plentiful data in the field.
Nicole Deziel, an assistant professor in the Yale Department of Environmental Health Sciences, will serve as the study's lead investigator. Deziel said she and three other Yale researchers will base their operations in the science lab at the Olney Friends School in Barnesville until they leave in August.
"We are very interested in whether this expansion in natural gas extraction could contribute to the contamination of water and air supplies," Deziel said. "Ohio is understudied. Most of the studies are from Pennsylvania or Texas.
"We hope our results will advance understanding of the potential for exposure to volatile organic compounds and other toxic substances in communities with natural gas extraction by comparing concentrations of chemical contaminants in homes in close proximity to natural gas wells and homes located farther away," Deziel said.
Deziel and her team are already visiting Belmont County homes. Although the industry is prevalent throughout eastern Ohio, she said the parameters of the study call for evaluating 100 homes in a single county.
"The results should have a broader relevance to the surrounding region," Deziel said. "We have an open mind. We are going to follow the data. Much more work is needed to fully understand the risk to the water and the air."
During fracking, contractors shoot millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep into wells, along with a cocktail of chemicals unique to the driller.
"We want to know what is in the water that people are using for drinking and bathing," Deziel said. "We will be collecting air samples from inside and outside the home."
According to fliers Yale is distributing, those at least 21 years of age who live in Belmont County may be eligible for the study. Researchers urge those interested to call 740-792-6040, or send an email to OWAQS@yale.edu.
Payment for participation is set at $20.
Elise Elliott is a Yale doctoral degree candidate and a researcher in the study.
"Quantification of the potential exposure to toxic and carcinogenic chemicals by monitoring drinking water and air in people's homes is a critical piece to understanding the potential public health impact of hydraulic fracturing," Elliott said.
Deziel knows many in Belmont County support oil and natural gas fracking, so she said respecting all points of view is vital.
"Regardless of the opinions, it is clearly on the minds of the community," she said.