Fort Worth Air Quality Study Says: Go Ahead, Take a Deep Breath. For the Most Part.

Categories: The Environment

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The much-anticipated Fort Worth Natural Gas Air Quality Study, a major million-dollar undertaking to determine the air quality effects of natural gas drilling, was released toward day's end yesterday and indicates there's no need to get your gas masks out just yet -- for the most part. The study, conducted by Eastern Research Group Inc. (ERG), is a mammoth doc in need of full digesting. But, for now, here's the gist:

In general, air pollution levels were not determined to have reached levels causing adverse health effects. Even so, pollution of any level is not a welcome addition to a neighborhood, so the ERG recommended additional study to monitor the pollution levels to ensure they're within a range conducive to future productive human life.

Chris Klaus, a member of Fort Worth's Air Quality Study Committee, told Unfair Park at last night's Texas Commission on Environmental Quality hearing in Arlington that he has confidence in the methods used to assess the city's air quality. But he emphasized that this is a limited, short-term study that cannot assess the cumulative effects of drilling.

"It will help to identify where the problems are, how severe the problems are ... and what are the issues locally," said Klaus, who lives in a well-dotted area south of Fort Worth. But he reminds: Those living closest to the wells may still face more severe air-pollution problems because of drilling.

Results determined that "dozens of pollutants with varying toxicities," three-fourths of which came from well pads, were present in the city's air. Pollutants such as methane, propane and ethane, with relatively low toxicities, accounted for 98 percent of the estimated pollution. More toxic chemicals like benzene were present, but in significantly lower amounts.

While pollutants were not determined to be at high enough levels to cause adverse health effects, the results weren't 100-percent peachy. Based on emission rates calculated by ERG, the study says that "five sites -- a processing facility, three compressor stations, and one well pad -- had overall emission rates that exceed regulatory thresholds that are supposed to trigger certain permitting requirements."

The study also determined that malfunctioning equipment, such as tank hatches that were partially open or corroded, "likely caused increased emissions."

Also of note: For the majority of sites examined, Fort Worth's 600-foot setback distance was determined to be "adequate," although the "relatively few" sites with "multiple, large line compressor engines" had "estimated acrolein and formaldehyde concentrations greater than protective health-based screening levels published by the TCEQ [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality]."

The twice-delayed study's release comes two days after the first Dallas gas drilling task force meeting. And seeing as how set-back talk will be among the task force's topics of conversation, expect this information, and much of the study's determinations, to surface in future discussions at Dallas City Hall. We should call Sheffie and see what he thinks.

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Kim Triolo Feil
Kim Triolo Feil

On page 3-7 of the ERG study, the Infrared camera only sees when emissions are >10,000,000 (ten million) ppb. ERG said that the IR (infrared) camera did not detect ANY emissions at 96 sites! So how many “other” sites did the IR cameras detected at least 10,000,000 ppb? ….at the other (292 ?) sites !!! HOLY COW CANCER! Take ten million times 1/2 of a percent (.005 that TCEQ said is typically in the dry Barnett Shale gas) to estimate the Benzene…..that would be…drum roll please— at least 50,000 ppb Benzene detected at the  sites that “registered” on the IR camera! As Texas Sharon recently said “…that thud was my jar dropping to the ground". Ya think Perry is betting on (against) life insurance policies for Barnett Shale residents?

Jeremiah
Jeremiah

Good post Leslie.. this is something that must be on "all of our minds" as fellow Texans. I just got done posting something on another blog about the importance of "Natural Gas and LNG (Liquified Natural Gas)" and its use in the coming years... Despite how "harmful" the gas may be to the environment right now, I assure you its about 1/10th as harmful as Crude & Unleaded Gasoline are to the environment. I think we need to make this transition to Natural Gas smoothly, but I am happy to see that their are companies and studies that are "keeping these natural gas drillers honest" - Great post again Leslie!

Jeremiah

Kim Triolo Feil
Kim Triolo Feil

Being the speaker just after Mr. Ed, I asked him if the 21 tpd included the (often excluded) start up, maintenance and shut down emissions that the PBR forgives.  He did not answer me as I turned & waited for his answer as TCEQ let him off the hook and said we could discuss that later. But I wished I would have been anal and stood there using my time and pushing him to answer. Now I pose this very same question to ERG if they are including these emission estimates.  I wonder how many of the 388 sites were in the start up phase? We need to know what those emissions are and apply that to the over 1200 producing wells for a historical perspective. Then we need maintenance records of all the compressor stations and emission records of emissions during filter changes and blow downs and estimate tose emissions. THEN we can say what we have been emitting and can make future projections because Chesapeake has recently notified mineral holders that they will keep about 20 rigs in North Texas and has a goal of drilling almost 400 more wells this year!

claytonauger
claytonauger

Maybe that's because we're all trying to digest the results on our own and not take the city staff's word about what the report actually shows. There's a lot of information here, including that FW gas sites alone release 57 TONS PER DAY of chemicals into the air annually. Klaus is right about the limitations of the thing - it's a snapshot, not a movie. And not to put too fine a point to it, but there are chemicals that gas sites emit at levels that may still officially be classified as "safe" from a regulatory definition, but which have been shown to cause harm below those levels. These are heavy industry operations that deal with toxins and carcinogens everyday. I still don't think I'd want to live near a drill site, compressor or tank farm.

pak152
pak152

"57 TONS PER DAY of chemicals" and how does that compare to what other industries spew into the air. or internal combustion engines or the aviation industry. a number by itself has no meaning unless compared to something

Edgar
Edgar

It's all caps, though, so it must be an alarming number.

Edgar
Edgar

Fair enough.  Snap judgments are bad, so digest, by all means.  On the face, though, it's apparent that the results are not consistent with what the expectations were from the commenters on this blog.

claytonauger
claytonauger

I don't think that's true. We have zero expectations of officials finding anything wrong.

The Midlothian cement plants have always been exonerated of any harm by official samplings and studies. It's the "most sampled and tested city in Texas." And yet there's no doubt that if you live in Midlothian or the surrounding area, you've seen public health adversely affected by the burning of hazardous waste and the soot from the kilns. Citizens there had to hire their own toxicologists from academia to do a thorough challenge to find the methodological flaws in the official studies, of which there turned out to be many. The map is not the place. The mechanical sampling is not the human experience. There are just too many examples of the latter to be outweighed by findings of "safeness" by the former.

Besides, it's Friday.

Three quick items: Bloomberg's headline this morning is that five Ft. Worth sites exceed state proscribed "safe" levels of exposure. So I suppose it's all where you start from and what's next door to you.

Even as the 600 foot setbacks in Ft. Worth are deemed "adequate" and not "protective," it turns out that the council there regularly grants waivers to those setback requirements and so there are many families living closer than an "adequate" distance away from a heavy industrial site. What do you do now with those folks who live within "inadequate" distances of such?

And the bottom line is that the report's recommendations jive with the demands of all local environmental groups involved with the gas issue that exposures should be minimized by requiring vapor recovery units, new non-leaking valves, "green completions," and electric compressors. So you know, it's agreeing with us. Hard to complain a lot about that.

pak152
pak152

"We have zero expectations of officials finding anything wrong."

conversely i have ZERO, ZILCH, NADA expectations that the anti-drilling crowd will ever accept a valid objective neutral study.

Edgar
Edgar

Comments usually roll in at a faster clip on Fridays because people get bored at work...so I take it you meant that environmentalists take a vacation from caring about the environment on Fridays?  Spin it how you like.  The silence was deafening.  BTW, I believe SUPs for setbacks below 300' can never be granted absent waiver by all surface owner within that distance, and in the 300'-600' range, SUPs are rarely granted.

Edgar
Edgar

Lots of silence from the usual suspects on this commentary.

GusMitchem
GusMitchem

There was a lady on CBS 11s coverage of this story I believe it was 11, she had to be at least 80lbs overweight and she was complaining about the health hazzards of a rig near her home. That totally represents the hipocrasy of the anti-drilling folks, "O god theres this big thing by my house for a month or two and its scarry, it must be dangerous." or better yet "My neighbors are using that damm rig to get rich and Im not getting shit"

So go ahead and eat some more fast food and continue to worry about a few trace gasses floating in your fresh air.

Anonymous
Anonymous

So you abdicate the right to prevent someone else from forcing you to be exposed to chemicals just because you make poor decisions in other aspects of your life? That doesn't make any sense at all. 

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