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  • Writer's pictureEnvironmental Health Project

Compressor Stations in the Northeast: A Guide to Protecting Your Health and the Environment

Aerial view of a compressor station complex surrounded by forest on three sides and mowed grass in the foreground.
Compressor Complex, Clinton Co., PA. Photo citation: Ted Auch, FracTracker Alliance, 2021.

Areas of active shale gas extraction (sometimes called hydraulic fracturing or fracking) are often the focus of research studies of associated health problems. However, shale gas infrastructure extends beyond the shale play (the geological formation where methane gas is found) and is still a concern in areas that have prioritized health over resource extraction. Read on to learn more about compressor stations, specifically those that dot landscapes across the northeastern United States.

What is a compressor station?

When shale gas moves through a pipeline, distance, friction, and elevation differences inhibit the flow of the gas. Compressor stations, located every 50-60 miles along gas pipelines, increase pressure to help push the gas through the pipeline to the next station. Compression can also be necessary at well pads because wellhead pressure decreases as wells age and production declines. Depending on the location of the compressor station and its purpose, the facility can vary in size from a single engine on a well pad to a large facility with pipeline valve stations and multiple engines enclosed in buildings.

Are compressor stations a concern in states that have banned shale gas extraction?

After compiling a 2,000-page report analyzing air impacts, climate change impacts, drinking water impacts, surface spills, surface water contamination, earthquakes, increased vehicle traffic, road damage, noise, odor complaints, and increased local demand for housing and medical care, New York State banned shale gas extraction by gubernatorial executive order in 2014. The New York State legislature made the ban permanent in its Fiscal Year 2021 budget.

The New York ban on shale gas extraction provided some protection for residents, but “any relief felt by New Yorkers because of the ban on fracking was, however, not totally justified,” researchers Pasquale Russo and David Carpenter found in a 2019 study. Shale gas infrastructure continues to produce harmful pollution in the state. As Russo and Carpenter explain, “In nearby Pennsylvania, fracking was occurring at a frenetic pace. In order to access markets for Pennsylvania natural gas there was a sudden construction of new pipelines and expansion of existing pipelines across New York to bring Pennsylvania natural gas to New England and ports for overseas shipment.”

Screenshot of FracTracker's National Energy and Petrochemical Map with compressor station selected as an option. Pipelines are shown as colored lines. Compressor stations are blue stars.
This FracTracker map marks each compressor station with a blue star. Source:

Similarly, other states that have banned shale gas extraction face significant impacts from compressor stations. Since compression is necessary to move shale gas through pipelines, anywhere pipelines are found, there are compressor stations.

Regulatory agencies attempt to impose guidelines to reduce compressor station emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced New Source Performance Standards in 2013 in an effort to reduce harmful pollution by requiring operators to utilize Best Available Technology (BAT). Unfortunately, a loophole allows the installation of equipment manufactured prior to the adoption of these standards. Operators can still use older engines that produce a higher level of emissions so long as the equipment has not been modified or remanufactured.

What are the health impacts of compressor stations?

Emissions from shale gas compressor stations are known to cause both acute and chronic health impacts. Compressor stations frequently have both planned and unplanned emissions events. These emissions events require venting that cause temporary spikes or episodic peaks of emissions which can lead to acute health impacts. Weather conditions and wind direction may affect an individual’s actual exposure. As a result of these factors, acute health symptoms may be persistent, episodic, or temporary.

Text snipped from reads "Texas Eastern: Notice of reportable venting at the compressor station in Accident, MD on March 3, 2022 (posted Thursday, March 3, 2022 at 6:12 p.m. ET). In compliance with COMAR (5), notice is given to the public that Enbridge's Texas Eastern compressor station in Accident, MD experienced an unplanned venting on March 3, 2022. During this event more than 1,000,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas was vented through facilities specifically designed to safely vent natural gas. The venting may have been heard by our neighbors. While there was no risk to the public, Enbridge notified local public safety officials in the event they receive any calls or questions.
Public notice of unplanned venting at a compressor station in Accident, MD. Source:

Anecdotally, people living near compressor stations report episodic strong odors as well as visible plumes during venting or blowdowns required to reduce pipeline pressure. Residents often report symptoms, such as burning eyes and throat, skin irritation, and headaches, that they associate with odors.

Compressor stations can generate significant noise and may create perceptible vibration. These impacts, along with light pollution from the facility, can be disruptive and result in mental and physical health impacts for those living nearby.

A recent study looked at radium-226 and radium-228 brought to the surface by shale gas development and transported through pipelines and compressor stations. Industry watchdogs exploring the consequences of radioactive substances disturbed and transmitted in this way have found elevated levels of radioactivity near compressor stations. Justin Nobel quoted a graduate student monitoring levels near a site in southeastern Pennsylvania in his recent TruthDig article: “We can say that compressor stations, based on our numbers, do appear to elevate radioactivity. We certainly want to look further at compressor stations across this region and the nation to see if levels are elevated elsewhere or even higher in some places.” Radium can cause nausea and vomiting after short-term exposure. Long-term exposure can lead to anemia, cataracts, fractured teeth, lymphoma, bone cancer, and leukemia.

What can be done about harmful pollution from compressor stations?

Compressor stations, by design, will cause emissions. Health impacts are an unavoidable consequence of these emissions. Residents that live near existing compressor stations can reduce exposure to the facility’s harmful impacts by following these guidelines:

  1. Take steps to protect your health: ◦ Use an air purifier or a low-cost air filter ◦ Monitor air quality outdoors and keep windows closed when pollution levels are unhealthy ◦ Monitor and document any changes in your health and talk to a trusted health professional

  2. Subscribe to any notification system offered by the facility’s operator to be made aware of planned events that will temporarily increase emissions.

  3. Report emissions events or observations of the facility to regulatory agencies.

  4. Sign up to be notified of new permit applications. Current Pennsylvania regulations, for example, do not require consideration of all pollution sources in an area when issuing new permits. Public scrutiny of plans to construct and operate new infrastructure is important to bring health and safety concerns to the attention of regulatory agencies. A guide to permit procedures in Pennsylvania and for projects permitted by federal agencies is available here.

  5. Contact your municipal government to review local regulations for compressor stations and other infrastructure. If your local government does not offer health-based setback distances and commonsense requirements for noise, light, and vibration, residents can advocate for increased protection at any time.

Residents who do not currently live near a compressor station should continue to monitor the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permitting system as well as state and local agencies. Applying public pressure when infrastructure plans are being considered can be the most effective method of securing protections for your community.

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station have compiled extensive information about the Weymouth Compressor Station in Massachusetts. Visit Oil & Gas Watch (EIP) for a comprehensive listing of pending air permits nationwide. If you are aware of a compressor station seeking a permit in your area, please share it in the comments.


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