Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force's Field Trip Was Practical, Educational and Quite Hot

Categories: The Environment

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Photos by Taryn Walker
The crowd at yesterday's Arlington trip sizes up an actively drilling Chesapeake site.
Tuesday, Dallas gas drilling task force members -- and city council members Angela Hunt, Linda Koop and, but of course, Sheffie Kadane -- poured out of two white 15-passenger vans and into the 100-degree heat at XTO and Chesapeake natural gas sites in various stages of production throughout Arlington. Mayor Mike Rawlings, fresh from his European vacation, even came along for the first couple stops, though his long sleeves and tie were no match for the heat.

In general, educational field trips help make classroom lessons tangible and visible, and this one was no different. Collin Gregory, Arlington's gas drilling coordinator, lead the discussion, walking Dallas officials through the process of drilling, fracking and extracting natural gas, while detailing Arlington's ordinances regulating the process. The sites were as pristine and well-groomed as one might expect from a prearranged visit, but then again, Gregory pointed out that Arlington officials do inspect sites at least once a month, usually more.

The tour had one caveat: The scheduled XTO hydraulic fracturing job had finished in the morning, meaning no active frac job would take place on the tour. After a drive-by at a different site that was expected to be in the fracturing phase but was not, the Chesapeake drill rig at 5700 US Highway 287 marked the first stop for the vans packed with city officials.

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Mayor Rawlings sat in on the first portion of the trip.
A frac pond had been carved into the ground behind the drilling location. It was full of fresh water that would soon be mixed with chemicals and pumped beneath the earth's surface to coax gas from the Barnett Shale. Gregory told the group that gas companies buy water from the city at a "commercial rate."

Hunt asked whether Chesapeake discloses the chemicals used for fracking. A Chesapeake representative said, "Yes," you bet, the company discloses the chemicals used in the fracking fluid. "With the new legislation that was passed, you can actually look on a well-by-well basis," she told the council member.

But the Hunt pressed further: "So there are no trade secret chemicals withheld?" Lois Finkelman, chair of the Dallas gas drilling task force, added that the law leaves room for omission.

At their prodding, the Chesapeake official clarified that "we used a third party" to provide fracking fluid, and Chesapeake discloses the information the "third party" provides -- though that company may not be required to give a complete list of chemicals used.

At the drilling site, with the tall cellphone tower-like structure above where the machinery was boring a hole, Gregory pointed out that the high, padded sound walls are effective at protecting the neighborhood across the street from the loud engine-like noise. He said the city "absolutely" does noise testing to ensure it falls within the levels agreed upon. If that's not the case, the city temporarily shuts down the operation. Gregory also said that the exhaust pollution from the diesel generators must fall within standards set by the Railroad Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

After the drilling site, the crowd piled like sardines back into the vans and headed for what was initially planned as fracturing site, but was instead a well site. Gregory said the city of Arlington determines what landscaping the gas companies use to make these highly conspicuous sites less of an eyesore.

Four well heads, appearing like larger, more complex fire hydrants, sat in the middle of the mostly barren site clinking quietly. Blue containers of fracking fluid were off to the left side of the site, and cylinders used to separate the water from the gas and meter the amount of gas sat at the right. Walter Dueease, XTO's senior regulatory affairs coordinator, assured the crowd that "redundant controls" such as multiple valves on the wells to stymie the gas flow if necessary, provide "levels of protection" throughout the process.

Once the gas is collected here, it is piped to a compressor station at 1011 West Harris Road. This marked the next stop for the big white vans. About 275 million cubic feet of natural gas moves daily through this compression station, an intermediary stop paid for by energy companies. Outside the station, the noise was comparable to the propellers of an idling small plane. The Arlington ordinance requires that compressors be housed within a structure, and this sturdy garage space is among the largest, containing three 6,000 horsepower units and six 3,000 horsepower units.

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Linda Koop, former Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher and Lois Finkelman listen to a presentation at the compressor station.

The football field-sized room housing the six units, five of which were running, gave off the jarring noise of several jackhammers, but from just outside, it was barely audible. Asked whether big sophisticated structures like this were atypical for Barnett compressor stations, Joe Velasquez, vice president of operations for Summit Midstream, which operates the facility, said, "Very much so." Compressor stations elsewhere can be found outside in plain sight (and earshot).

Velasquez said this station's electric compressors leave a "very small footprint" with fewer emissions than a gas station. Once the gas leaves the compressor station, it has been dehydrated -- and increased in pressure sevenfold.

While the entire process is extremely complex and impossible to entirely cover in an afternoon, yesterday provided a solid practical overview without many surprises.

Hunt said that while she appreciates the generosity of the city of Arlington for choreographing the tour, she wished it were "less bland ... where we drop in on folks" instead of carefully "cherry-picked" locations. Task force member Cherelle Blazer had a similar reaction.

Former Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher, also on the task force, called the day "extremely helpful" and added, "Education is important before we start making decisions."

Finkelman asked members to reserve their discussion of the field trip until next Tuesday's meeting, when they will unpack their analysis in a public forum.


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26 comments
Kim Triolo Feil
Kim Triolo Feil

I need to clarify to folks AFTER reading the Ft Worth air study results to work on the drilling ordinance with the knowledge that the drilling and fracking tests were fenceline tests and NOT point source tests.  I was told my an expert in the air testing field that the fenceline is NOT the correct location for testing, that is the perfect location for NOT capturing emissions due to updrafting of the plume.  The plume rises (at point source) and comes down quite a ways away (depending on many factors).

Kim Triolo Feil
Kim Triolo Feil

Last Thursday morning around 7:30 am, I was in Arlington traveling west on I20 near 287 and WOW two drifferent drill sites were emitting H U G E black, diesel plumes. One on the north of I20 and one to the south.  I wish I had my cam corder. I was on the way to the Arlington Gas Drilling Ordinance Citizen Meeting. I arrived just in time to hear a representative who I think was from Republic Recycling talk about natural gas re-fueling stations because they are going to convert the recycling trucks to run on natural gas which he said "is more friendly to the environment and a more stable supply of fuel".  Of course I asked if this change was in response to Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake pushing for folks to create a demand to match the supply of his natural gas glut. I asked if they understand that methane losses is speeding up global warming and that the extraction process of NG is not friendly to the environment. He said that the next speaker in charge of production would address my questions, but there was no such speaker. I was surprised that Councilwoman Capehart reminded mineral holders to not get their hopes up because her own experience was her 2 acres where she grew up only yielding $30 in royalties over a three month period.  She said she doesn't want a drill site on every corner and that once the production levels off, that the tier 1 drillers sell to tier 2 companies who may not have the funds to properly maintain the sites. That they may drill for 5 years, but they are "here" for 25 years. She said that the White Site is currently the biggest Barnett Shale producer, so it depends on the lease and the well's production as to your royalties. There was mention that we have 60 pad sites and 360 wells in Arlington (the Star Telegram says we have 384 wells) , but that they are not without cost. The changes to be made to our drilling ordinance seems to ignore the recent results of the ERG Ft Worth air study which calls for emission control devices and claims a 600 ft setback is adequate (not counting compressor stations).  But Arlington and Ft Worth allows violations of that setback regularly. One of the proposed changes to the ordinance regarding setback is that they are going from 60% landowner approval to violate the 600 foot setback to 70%. But with the way our council votes these in, even 100% of landowner rejection would still allow council (7of 9 votes needed) to let a site be closer than 600 feet. They have it all hemmed up.  They are proposing to change the set back from each well head to a "drilling zone" so that the mayor doesn't have to be bothered by citizens begging to stop the drilling in their backyards. This way if a new well is within the drilling zone, it gets an administrative rubber stamp (nothing has changed really). But this drilling zone does NOT account for a battery of storage tanks which is the very setback item that ERG recommends should have vapor recovery systems! The storage tanks are not the council's focus regarding setbacks for public safety. They need to read the Ft Worth air study and then work on their ordinance especially on compressor stations. During the morning meeting, I was graciously allowed to ask all my questions with a little encouragement not to dominate the floor. I did my most damage at the very end of the meeting when I asked why our ordinance has no provisions for requiring our water department to test for drilling effluents. I informed them that Barium hasn't been tested for in nine years and yet we have been drilling for at least four years! In responding to me, Jim Parajon made calm assurances to the audience of mostly senior citizens that our drinking water is safe, but no explanation as to why we were not testing for Barium to see if drilling effluents are leaching into our Lake Arlington drinking water supply. Last summer our Chloride jumped to 28, and the Manganese jumped nine times since 2007 on a 445 reading taken 8/11/2010 at 10:39:58 (See patent 7732379 on possible Manganese relation to drilling in lieu of acids). However, rust from equipment left in the lake decades ago could be the rust culprit, but why the increase so recently?  Yes indeed our gas drilling ordinance on setbacks, air pollution prevention, and city water testing requirements has a long way to go to being protective of public health, but then again the timing to enact our updated ordinance (too late) was purposefully postphoned to allow rushing urban drilling into our town and then asking questions later.

claytonauger
claytonauger

OK, so that was the industry tour. When do they take the unauthorized version?

Angela Hunt
Angela Hunt

Great wrap up. One point of clarification - I don't remember calling the tour "bland" (though I was getting dizzy in the Hell-like heat, so who knows...). The word I think I used was "sanitized." My point was this was great intro tour, but it would also be helpful to drop by these operations unexpectedly, to see how things go when they don't know company's coming. I know I clean house much more thoroughly when I'm expecting visitors, but friends and family would get a better idea of how I usually keep house if they just dropped by without calling. And no, that's not an invitation.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

I was told by those who went on the trip yesterday that the emissions caused quite a few headaches, runny noses, and other respiratory issues that come with this process. It is hoped that those who on the task force will remember this when working on the new drilling ordinance.

Also, there were more than a few misleading statements by the gas industry that were tossed around as 'truth's'. One hopes that there were enough smart people there to figure that out.

lorlee
lorlee

During a drought of monumental proportions, the use of that much fresh water (I think I read 12 billion gallons) is an absolute crime.  And then we are stuck with the used water.  An environmental disaster both coming and going.

Jed Clampett
Jed Clampett

They was trying to build a tall cellphone tower-like structure at Spindletop back in 1901 when they accidentally struck oil. I think it was Verizon if I am not mistaken.

Robert
Robert

Gregory told the group that gas companies buy water from the city at a "commercial rate."

And the drilling companies meter the water themselves and they pump the water straight from the nearest source (river, lake) if possible. They run their water lines over roads if necessary.

I've learned more about this drilling crap then I really wanted to know.

Sturm's Bloody Rectum
Sturm's Bloody Rectum

Is it true that these companies practices don't have to abide by the federal clean water act? If so, then these companies side step laws/regulations, that other manufacturers fall under.

Was George Dunham there? The Jub whould've put the hammer down on getting straight answers. I'm always leary of such titled individuals, "senior regulatory affairs coordinator". Is that a worker put forth for questions, or a long titled PR officer?

Marc
Marc

Leslie, you did a great job of describing the nature of the tour that we took yesterday. I noticed several things that need to be stressed.

At every stop there were fugative emissions present. Those were not the odors from diesel generators and motors, though those were present also, but rather were from other types of emissions typical of natural gas operations. And, they were different odors at each stop we made. They were quite stong at each drilling location, and had to be contributing to air pollution over the entire Metroplex.

Also, the Chesapeake guy who attempted to answer my question about the required covering on the frac pond missed the fact that the Texas Resources Management Plan, a copy of which I forwarded to you a couple of weeks ago, mandates a netting or covering over ALL open ponds and pits to protect migratory birds and other wildlife from accessing those ponds and dying.

I find it interesting that our law enforcement and regulatory agencies routinely overlook the laws and regulations for some industries when they deem it to be in their own best interest to do so. I can understand drillers avoiding compliance, but I cannot understand why regulatory agencies overlook clear violations.

All in all, it was an educational tour and a great opportunity to get up close and personal with every phase from drilling through compression.

Kaybnelson
Kaybnelson

I had commented earlier to this frac article didn't ever see it.Iive in Dallas and have land in East Texas -rural. Our adjoining family land is being decended on by the oil and gas companies. I have seen "Gasland" a documentry by Josh Fox, that won several awards for disclosing the ugly truth behind Fracing.The EPA is not doing their job testing the water and determining the dangers behind all the chemical pooling and runoff and the air particulants. I suspose this was Dick Cheney's intent to give the gas and oil companies a free ride. I have quite alot of concerns, one being the millions of gallons of water used for the fracing and the result being akin to a bomb blast under our properties. Is the city going to repair our foundations and sheetrock from the damage? How could any sane person frac in Arlington where we have land with earthquake prone faults. I could go on and on, however, our natural resourse of water is already being bought from other areas to supply the city.So ultimately our water bills go up because we need more water brought in, the gas and oil companies get a water deal from the city council and the citizens of the Metroplex get poision water and we have to pay more for it so the cities can get a small royalty ck. Why not get smarter city council members that have a better vision for the future? Maybe, the city council could talk with Flower Mound to see how unhappy that area is with their decisions.Keep up the good work researching this mess.Kay Nelson

Edgar
Edgar

Those day-trippers must be some serious eggshell environmentalists.  Thousands of people work on these sites every day in DFW without succumbing to hypochondria.

Also, one hopes that there are enough smart people here to figure out that your use of the word "truth's" requires no apostrophe.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

Then it is hoped that on August 2 at 7 pm you are able to come down to City Hall and tell the gas drilling task force that very thing. Actually, it's 3- 10 million gallons of Dallas water per well, per frack operation. All pad sites hold more than one well. The proposed site at Mountain Creek is 12 wells. So do the math.... 60 million gallons of Dallas water that will never be recycled again. The Joe Pool site is proposed 14 wells, give or take.That would be about 70 million gallons of Dallas water. Don't forget to curb your water use at your home and property, due to conservation efforts by the state and city.

Marc
Marc

The main point is that they use 1.5 to 9 million gallons for each and every frac job (13 million gallons in the Eagleford Shale) and that water is not re-usable ever again, which is why they dispose of it by pumping it into the Ellenberger formation 15-18,000 feet below the surface.

A few companies have tried recycling wastewater, what industry refers to as "produced water", but none have been successful on a large scale, and the cost is prohibitive, which is why gas drillers pay a lot of money to haul produced water off to injection well sites for disposal. Only about 10-40% of all water injected into a gas well bore comes back out - the rest remains in the ground at the well site to contaminate ground water and eventually make its contaminated way back to the surface.

Only 3% of ALL water on this planet is fresh water, which is in short supply. We get no "new water" from outer space. What is here now has always been here, and there is no other source - PERIOD! Using 60-120 BILLION gallons of fresh water PER YEAR, and permanently taking that water out of the hydrologic cycle, contributes to droughts and fresh water shortages. Without fresh water we DIE!

The cost of building desalination plants to process seawater is prohibitive and requires 10-15 years to bring on-line. Depleting our fresh water reserves for a temporary fossil fuel resource that is only about 10-20% of what is claimed by industry is insane, and no rational person would defend or condone such insanity.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

XTO has said at Dallas City Hall that they plan on using Dallas water via a fire hydrant. That's Walter Dueease's words, not mine. Texas Instruments is the largest user of water in Dallas with about a billion gallons a year that they buy. But their water is recyclable and always goes back into the hydrological cycle of which we all benefit. The water that the gas industry uses NEVER is used again because of the contamination. It's not 'salt water' as they like to call it. It's contaminated water that is injected back into the ground south of here. Hence, the earthquakes you know about.

Leslie Minora
Leslie Minora

Just to clarify -- all of the water may not come from the city, but Gregory said the companies pay commercial rates for the water that does.

Marc
Marc

Tuesday's tour was for background information so that the City Council and Task Force would have an idea about what they were regulating when they  re-write the Dallas Gas Drilling ordinance. Only Council members and task force panelists were allowed to ask questions.

None of the sites we saw had the usual truck traffic, noise, odors or activities that are normal at a drilling and frac'ing site. That is why Angela Hunt described the tour as a "sanitized" event. We were purposefully kept from seeing what really goes on. It was akin to going on a tour of homes without being able to look under the sinks, in closets, in the attic or under the floor. We saw what they wanted us to see, and nothing more.

Walter Dueease is hardly just a worker sent out to do PR. He is the professional flim-flam man for XTO. He is the guy who stood before the Grand Prairie City Council in a videotaped open session and lied to them when he claimed that "USACE is aware of our drilling activities at Joe Pool Reservoir because of an agreement we have with BLM." There is no such agreement between BLM and XTO for anything at Joe Pool, BLM has no authority over anything at Joe Pool, and Joe Pool is 100% under the auspices of the USACE. Don't sell the man short - he is a professional bullshit artist, not just some lackey sent out to meet the press.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

Sturm: the gas industry is exempt from the Clean Air and the Clean Water Act signed in by Richard Nixon. This was set up by VP Dick Cheney in 2005 when Halliburton unveiled the hydrofracking technique. The gas industry at this point can do most anything they want under fed and state law to a point. What they hate, but must obey are the individual city ordinances if they want to drill there. That's where we have the power, should the city leaders choose to use it.

Notreal
Notreal

Marc, are you in the tarp business? Because your statement would require all swimming pools, livestock tanks, puddles, etc. to be covered.

Marc
Marc

Once again, Edgar offers his comments without any substance or fact, and now he goes from being an anti-environmentalist to being an English professor correcting punctuation errors.

Edgar, can you offer ANY proof that workers on gas drilling rigs are not cikened or injured by their work? There are thousands of cases to refute any claims you make, and there have been many that went beyond injury or illness - they were KILLED doing this work when they hit a gas kick or when a well exploded in a fireball. In fact, over the past ten years there have been 45 people killed in gas well explosions alone - of which I am aware - and there may have been more.

You are really not smart enough to be discussing this issue. When IS your tenth birthday party?

Dan
Dan

Most of the wells on the Barnett shale are drilled through either or both the Trinity and Woodbine aquifers which are important sources of subsurface water for many Texans.  I would be surprised if the drillers are not using water from these aquifers, yet they seem reluctant to openly admit it.

I am deeply concerned about contamination of the aquifers due to the many thousands of wells drilled through them.  Depletion of the aquifers due to the amount of water required for fracking is also a concern.  The quality and quantity data on the aquifers is not current and does not account for the recent boom in gas drilling.

Marc
Marc

The annual water usage figure applied ONLY to the Barnett Shale. The amount used by all oil and gas drilling operations globally is trillions of gallons per year. It is a major problem.

Marc
Marc

No, I am NOT in the tarp business, and the Texas Resources Management Plan DOES require ALL frac ponds or open pits to be covered whether or not you like it. I got a copy of the TRMP directly from the US Army Corps of Engineers, and it is a document they use to manage public waterways and activities near them. It is also a document used by the US Fish and Wildlife service and TPWD Game Wardens, both of whom are investigating these violations as we speak.

Edgar
Edgar

Another comment: Earlier you told me to "suck it" and now you wonder whether I've turned ten.  I'm no choirboy.  I'll be damned if I'm going to get lectured by a paedophile, you paedophile.

Edgar
Edgar

Must be defeating to have one's grammar corrected by a ten-year-old.  And there you go again throwing context out the window.  Raymond suggested that headaches experienced during an afternoon of drillsite-hopping caused were surely caused by gas emissions (rather than, say, the 100+-degree heat, or proximity to you and your mouth-fountain of bullshit), and you refer to well explosions.

Marc
Marc

Oops! I made a spelling error! I hope that Edgar does not catch it and chastise me for my keyboard mistake!

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