The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) plans to spend $1.56 million to launch an “unprecedented” expansion of the state’s fine particulate matter air monitoring network in areas of heavy natural gas development activity.

The plan calls for the DEP to expand its existing network of 27 monitors by adding continuous particulate matter samplers in ten northern and southwestern tier counties by 2017. Federal Clean Air Act grant funds received by the agency would help offset its costs for the program, which is aimed at learning more about the oil and gas industry’s impact on air quality and how the DEP can help to better protect the health of residents in the state.

The project’s price tag includes the purchase, installation, maintenance and the cost of replacement equipment over a five-year period.

“We have heard citizens of this commonwealth express concerns about air quality in areas near natural gas activities,” said DEP Secretary John Quigley. “With this expansion, we can better assess the ambient air in the natural gas regions.”

DEP said it would expand the monitoring network in Fayette, Indiana, Lycoming, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties by the end of this year. New monitors were also installed at sites in Greene and Bradford counties last month. By the fall of 2017, the network would expand with new monitors in Clarion, Jefferson and McKean counties. The expansion would compliment equipment at 15 other monitoring sites that are operated by health departments in Philadelphia and Allegheny counties.

The primary focus, Quigley said, would be on regions with significant numbers of natural gas compressor stations.

“We simply don’t have data on air quality in these areas,” he said. “We need that data and monitoring capability to help us understand whether or not there are risks or impacts to public health from current air quality in these areas.”

Fine particulate pollution, including nitrates and sulfates, organic chemicals, metals, soils and dust, result from a wide range of industrial processes and fuel combustion, including emissions from logging, agriculture and vehicles, among other things.

The DEP’s announcement comes just months after it said it would revise its permitting guidelines for the oil and gas industry as part of an unrelated four-part plan to reduce methane emissions in the state (see Shale Daily, Jan. 19).