The increasing production of natural gas from shale rock formations has brought increased scrutiny on how this production effects the environment, including how it affects air quality.
Natural gas is one of the cleanest burning fossil fuels available, and the local production of gas resources decreases the need for imports and transportation of fuels over long distances, further decreasing the emission of fossil fuel exhaust.
One main concern for air quality is the amount of methane (a main ingredient in natural gas) that leaks into the atmosphere from the time of extraction at the well to when it is burned in a furnace or car. As you can imagine, nobody wants to waste gas through leaks, and the industry is improving technology and infrastructure in order to minimize any leakage.
When a shale gas well is first drilled, the operators need to gauge the composition and quantity of gas coming from the well and install the necessary equipment to capture it. During this period of a few days to a few weeks, the gas is burned off at the site. This is called “flaring.” Many have pushed to eliminate this, citing negative effects on air quality. One way industry has sought to decrease this practice is by developing “green completion” procedures that allow for the immediate capture of gas when a well is drilled.
EPA guidelines for air quality in the oil and gas industry:
A summary of shale gas production, including air quality concerns from the Energy Information Administration: