Welcome to Colleyville, Home of the Most Scrutinized Fracking Site in North Texas

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The thing about air pollution is it doesn't heed county lines or city limits signs. Neither did the shale gas boom, until it moved into the cities and suburbs, where gas producers found themselves navigating a loud, patchwork quilt of municipal regulations that varied from town to town.

It happened in affluent Southlake, when two major gas producers simply pulled up stakes, cut their losses and left. But as residents watched the industry retreat from the suburb, another derrick rose just beyond its city limits in neighboring Colleyville. It just so happened it would center on a well drilled on property owned by Trinity Broadcasting Network, the religious channel that is home to Pat Robertson, Jan Crouch's eyelashes, the "prosperity gospel" and some allegedly lavish, fraudulent expenditures (including a $100,000 motor home for family dogs).

As Southlake denizens like Kevin Townson saw it, a new front had opened in an ongoing war to protect themselves and their children from the potentially hazardous emissions associated with the fracking process. That month, they pooled their money together and bought some summa canisters, devices used to draw air samples for monitoring. They placed two in Southlake and the third in Colleyville, all 1,100- to 1,700-feet from the padsite leased by Titan Operating. When the results came back from the lab, they got Wilma Subra, a chemist and MacArthur Genius Grant fellow from Louisiana, to make sense of the numbers.

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Examples of summa canisters.
According to her report, the canisters found benzene, a known carcinogen, above allowable long-term exposure levels set by the state. It also identified hydrogen disulfide, a neurotoxin, and naphthalene, a suspected carcinogen, above long-term safe exposure levels.

"The citizens were supposedly informed there would be no emissions from the [Titan] fracking job," Subra tells Unfair Park. "So, they obtained certified canisters and tested themselves and determined there were these emissions that violated [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] short-term and long-term standards."

The residents were alarmed and sent their results to the media last week, as well as to the city of Colleyville. The city, though, had reached its own conclusions by then. Its environmental consultant found some of the same toxic compounds, although his report indicated they were below harmful levels. None of them, he said, appeared to be blowing offsite into the surrounding neighborhoods. Nevertheless, in a report released Thursday, consultant Kenneth Tramm of Fort Worth-based Modern Geosciences said it was enough to prompt the city to "require additional emissions reduction efforts" from Titan going forward.

In fact, for the first time since fracking transformed the energy landscape in this country, the Obama administration last week created regulations to control the emissions from the industry, particularly during "flowback" operations, in which huge quantities of fracking fluid and deep subsurface water surge to the surface. That water is laced with natural gas that is released in into the air. Until now, it's been a regulatory loophole through which an entire industry has slipped, and one that is singular to hydraulic fracturing.

Unfair Park spoke with Tramm about the results for the Colleyville site. "This is the most monitored site I've seen in North Texas," he said. But he was quick to add that he could never begrudge the neighbors their fears.

Still, he added, the compounds could have come from any number of sources, including the diesel generators running all day at the drill site. That may be cold comfort to undiscriminating lungs, but the data doesn't match their conclusions, he said. For example, the residents' report identifies benzene detected above safe long-term exposure levels. The sampling performed, though, wasn't long term. "This is a short-term sample and a short-term emission," Tramm said. "If we set up a monitor in a backyard, similar to what TCEQ does, and those are monitored every hour throughout the year, that's the kind of sampling you'd have to do."

Simply put, Tramm believes the residents don't have enough information.

In response, Subra noted that the canister that identified the highest benzene levels was placed the furthest away, monitoring air quality there for 12 hours. "In fact, there was benzene detected in all three samples the citizens collected."

Yet the disparity in results -- and their interpretation -- is typical of drilling in shale formations where little if any consensus exists about whether fracking contaminates air or water. One regulator's unacceptable risk is within another's safe exposure limits.

That doesn't mean there was nothing coming from the Titan site. "[Titan] did not want me on this padsite," Tramm said, "and did not make it easy for me to set up my stuff." They may have had reason. Though Tramm believes hazardous compounds weren't wafting into the surrounding neighborhoods, he still detected volatile organic compounds like benzene emanating mostly from open tanks filed with flowback, the poisonous mixture of heavy-metal laced water from deep underground, fracking fluid and natural gas liquids. Oddly enough, the benzene levels were highest at night, he said, when production operations were shut down and the wind was calm, allowing the fumes to accumulate.

But: "Go to your gas station where they sell diesel and you'll be inhaling way more (volatile organic compounds)."

It's possible that the relatively well-to-do citizens of Colleyville and Southlake will make a good neighbor out of this fracking site yet. But like Tramm says, context counts. And so does scrutiny.

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40 comments
info.rentalmatch
info.rentalmatch

Dallas used to have inner-city lead smelters too - before the area around them grew too dense to operate smelters there safely....

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Eric Ryan
Eric Ryan

I don't like that the city took samples and said that it didn't match what the citizens' sample said. There is obviously something fishy about that going on. Obama made air pollution regulations, but they are not mandatory until 2015. That is way too large of a gap before effect. Check out the article here: http://shalestuff.com/controve... and explore all the other news articles and information provided on the site. It is definitely my favorite place to get my Marcellus Shale facts.

claytonauger
claytonauger

The state and the industry used to call Midlothian "the most monitored town in Texas." Nothing "above levels of regulatory concern."  And yet people kept getting sick because of the monitored pollution the monitored cement plants would spew will they were being monitored. To a scientist, this might cast doubt on the state's hypothesis that the levels being monitored were hunky-dory. But not to the state. Anyone interested in an objective scientific approach to environmental health problems will not find any allies in Austin. The state environmental agency is an extension of Rick Perry's anti-science views - it will never find any levels of concern around oil and gas wells, or any other industry. It's not in its political interests to do so. What should citizens do except build their own do-it-yourself science experiments that no government entity will perform for them? More of this kind of citizen sampling. 

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

The state and the industry used to call Midlothian "the most monitored town in Texas." Nothing "above levels of regulatory concern."

Adjust the regulations so the results are of no concern .

SLC
SLC

Benzene in Southlake/Colleyville and lead in Frisco...

Paul
Paul

 To put the record straight, in the early 60's the City of Frisco lobbied Exide to locate their plant in Frisco.

claytonauger
claytonauger

To put the record straight, Frisco had maybe 800 residents and what would become Exide's lead smelter was located on the edge of town. Dallas used to have inner-city lead smelters too - before the area around them grew too dense to operate smelters there safely, and before we knew enough about lead poisoning to understand that smelters  shouldn't be anywhere near neighborhoods or schools.

RTGolden
RTGolden

Reading the post he put there, that's the only way the argument can run.  clearly he states the Exide facility was away from neighborhoods and schools when it was built.  City of Frisco should have controlled their development better.

Edgar
Edgar

You could run the argument the other way.  Perhaps neighborhoods and schools shouldn't be built near lead smelters.

RTGolden
RTGolden

You could really just about attack anything liberals get up in arms about by measuring benzene.  I'm not trying to downplay the importance of benzene releases from fracking, but if you look here:

http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxpr...   

You'll notice that 50% of the environmental inhalation exposure of the general population to benzene is from cigarette smoke.  In other EPA studies, automobile exhaust, and gas stations account for up to 20% of the anthropogenic release of benzene into the atmosphere.  Other major sources of atmospheric benzene are forest fires, volcanoes (probably not relevant in TX), industrial process that produce benzene (no brainer), industrial processes that use benzene in the production of other materials.

Just out of curiosity, I wonder if the good neighbors of Southlake set up any of their testing deviced inside their attached garages or driveways to see what their short term exposure to benzene from automobile exhaust in their own home might have been.

Wes Scott
Wes Scott

You are truly full of shit!

RTGolden
RTGolden

Actually, it would be the CDC and the EPA that are full of shit, as you so intelligently put it.  That is where the information came from.  

Helpful hint, there is a link in my post, follow that and you'll know where I got my information.

billmarvel
billmarvel

RT,Just to remove all suspicions: You connected with the oil, gas pr energy industry in any way?

RTGolden
RTGolden

No, Bill, I have nothing to do with the energy industry at all.  i simply got curious reading the article and had a look see at some of the information available.  The studies I found were all authored by the EPA or the CDC, take that for what you will.

Sorry for not responding yesterday, might have headed off a lengthy thread that adds little to the discussion.  For what it's worth, I did not find your question accusatory or out of line.  It is a fair question to ask someone.  I would point out though, one does not have to be an expert in the field to be 'informed'.  I am by no means an expert, or even a novice in this arena.  I do think my questions and observations were fair and accurate.

RTGolden
RTGolden

I'm always glad to converse with you Bill.  Even in disagreement, you're fair and reasonable.  More often than not, I learn something new each time.  On this issue, we're in the same boat.  I don't know a lot about fracking and I'd like to know more unbiased information before I make up my mind.  It is just damned hard finding unbiased information.

billmarvel
billmarvel

RTGolden,Thanks for your reply. I am not an expert on anything, but curious about almost everything, especially when I find out it's a thing that might pop up a quarter-mile from my house.I don't know yet what to think about fracking. I am pretty sure fracking is responsible for the swams of small earthquakes here, in Oklahoma, and elsewhere. But I have an advantage inasmuch as I was living in Denver when there was a series of small quakes set off by Rocky Mountain Arsenal's pressure-pumping chemical wastes deep into the ground -- the equivalent of fracking. About polution of air and ground water, I'd like to see a whole lot more data. You added some of that.

pak152
pak152

that's it billmarvel attack the individual and call into question their bona fides. you could have just as easily called him a shill, but I guess you were being polite. now one could call into question ms. subra and where she stands but by gosh she is a MacArthur fellow, is against the oil/gas industry and therefore is granted hands-off status.

why not instead question the information that RT provided or would that be too difficult

RT's last statement is spot on. collecting data from one's garage would establish a baseline for benzene in the area. then when they collect from the other sites they could see if it is higher or lower. but it is much easier to attack the individual

billmarvel
billmarvel

Edgar,The internet, and especially blogs, have made it especially difficult to get accurate information and to test its accuracy. I come from a background in daily journalism, where we always wanted to know where the information was coming from and always tried to put that into our stories. People use information very selectively to advance their (often hidden) agendas.I've often disagreed with RTGolden on this forum, but I don't necessarily mistrust his information. I just want to know if he's advancing it as a disinterested citizen or as someone who is connected in some way to the energy industry.My own connection, jiust to get everything out on the table: I am not a member of any environmental or anti-fracking group. But I live a quartter mile from a site the city has leased to a natural gas developer. So I'd like too know what are he potential hazards, if any. No more than that, no less.

Edgar
Edgar

I would argue that the best way of gauging the information presented is to consider the underlying information presented.  If you'd like to know where his information came from, challenge him to provide it.

Pardon pak for being sensitive to this line of inquiry.  That may not have been your motivation, but he's spot-on.  If an opinionated commenter can align people on the other side with industry before even considering their information or thoughts, their points can be dismissed right away.  Unfortunately, a lot of commenters on this blog resort to that cheap, lazy tactic.

billmarvel
billmarvel

pak,Interpret less, think more.I have no idea whether Golden is a "shill," as you put it. I would like to know if he was putting forth his comment as someone who is  infomed, or just an ordinary citizen. I note that he has not bothered to answer, but perhaps he will. Until then, we have no way of gauging the trustworthiness of his infomation, do we? When the question is as controversial and as hard for us ordinary folks to understand as fracking, it matters a great deal who is addressing us and why.And, yes, you most definitely did misread my question.

 

pak152
pak152

 Bill there are a lot folks here on the blog that we don't know who or  what they are. but your comment was to ask him as you put it a "simple question" which I read/interpreted as "are you a shill?" the reason I say this is when any posts information contrary to what the accepted wisdom here ie fracking bad, O&G bad they are accused of being shills. I should know I've been called it numerous times.sure we know who Ms. Subra is, one could say she is a shill for the antis, do she have an agenda, is she unbiased? who knows as I wrote she has been granted "hands off status"what does it matter if RT works for the energy industry? is the information he provided inaccurate, false or misleading? note that he cited a CDC study not an industry study

and no I didn't misread your question.

billmarvel
billmarvel

pak,You misread a simple question. We  know who Ms. Subra is. We don't -- or at least I don't --  know who RTGolden is. I  like to know where someone is coming from., so I asked.  

TXsharon
TXsharon

Please click on this link http://www.colleyville.com/ima...

Scroll to the very last page and the very last photo.  Read the caption under that photo. Remember that ppmv has to be converted to ppbv to be comparing apples to apples. That's one hella lot of emissions.

Paul
Paul

Changing from ppmv to ppbv does not change the concentration.

We could also say that it is 0.61%v methane in air, which is more of a concern as an explosive mixture than anything else.  However it is still significantly below a combustible mixture.

I would be more concerned about the methane concentration away from the frac tank from a safety standpoint as the gas is not odorized.

Marianagriggs
Marianagriggs

Seems like a "chicken or the egg" problem. It is hard to determine which came first but we can't keep only getting "after the fact" baseline data.

Dave Mcfatridge
Dave Mcfatridge

Brantley Hargrove or Tramm, say's (I cant tell)"Yet the disparity in results -- and their interpretation -- is typical of drilling in shale formations where little if any consensus exists about whether fracking contaminates air or water. One regulator's unacceptable risk is within another's safe exposure limits."     There's plenty of consensus, it's divided along monetary gain vs risk for the environment and human health. Which do you value more? Where would you draw the line, if it meant a 66% increase in cancers within 1/2 of gas wells. Acceptable or not? 

Paul
Paul

While I certainly can sympathize with the resident's concerns and certainly wish them the best in battling with the state bureaucracy and large companies with significant resources, their attempts at monitoring fail at several levels.

First, and most important, there is no way that they can establish a causal link between their samples and the emissions from the Titan wellsite.  They simply do not have enough data.

Nevertheless they have established the presence of certain compounds.  The significance of their data has not yet been established.

They should continue to press TCEQ to install a monitor at the drill site and at a remote location.  With this they can establish if the air quality adjacent to the well site is different from that from the remote site.

Identifying the presence of certain compounds in the air is easy.  Establishing the source of these compounds is very difficult.

I wish them the best.

Southlaker
Southlaker

Paul...we simply tested the way TCEQ would have us do if we called them.  They leave summa canisters for residents all the time. For them to question our methodology is puzzling at best.  

pak152
pak152

 "we simply tested the way TCEQ would have us do if we called them." not sure what this means. did TCEQ provide you with procedures for proper siting and collection? or did you just put them any ol' place? haphazard placement and procedures ensures that the data collected will be called into question

Southlaker
Southlaker

GDAIR provided us the procedures for proper siting and collection. (btw, GDAIR is accredited by the TCEQ).  If the TCEQ doesn't think a homeowner can do proper testing, it might be time for their organization to re-think how they are testing our air quality here in the Barnett Shale.

Paul
Paul

 Thanks Southlaker.  I guess the problem is that you did the sampling and they didn't.

It is similar to a court case, if the facts are against you, argue the law.  If the law is against you, argue the facts.  The facts and the law are against you, confuse the jury.

TXsharon
TXsharon

It's really a shame people won't read anymore.

This is not a case of dueling test results. Tramm got the same results as the residents did. In his report, he recorded very high levels of the same toxics found with the summas. Then he said there were no emmissions.  Hmmm...

pak152
pak152

 "Do not be surprised if some one tells you that the cause for the benzene readings is due to your lawnmower or gas that you spilled in your garage."

in order to ensure that the information/materials you are collected are valid you need to eliminate or identify all potential sources of benzene in the area.

just putting out a few containers doesn't do the job.

"You will need to do more sampling" and you will need to fully document where the collections took place (a GPS tool helps) also take temperature and wind readings., plot the locations on a map, plot the wind directions, note how long the containers were collecting. cross correlate the data. obtain the opinion of more than one scientist/engineer. make sure their bone fides are rock solid. if the scientist tends to one side or the other find a scientist from the other side to examine the materials also. make it a blind analysis. what? by that I mean present the samples to the scientist and ask them for their analysis, don't tell them where it came from so that their opinion will be objective and not skewed by unnecessary information. i have not doubt that Ms. Subra is an excellent scientist, but since she has already expressed an opinion about fracking and drilling her analysis and opinion of what you collected can be called into question as being  preconceived

Southlaker
Southlaker

You hit the nail on the head, Paul.  The fact that average citizens have to lobby for monitoring, more sampling and comparisons, etc etc is absurd.  The regulatory agencies overseeing these operations have been harshly criticized by our own elected officials.  That is the source of my frustration, not you.  I (thankfully) do not live near that site and am grateful that our Southlake City Council recently enacted a strong gas ordinance.  But as we've seen time and time again, strong gas ordiances and setbacks don't always provide the utmost protection for residents.  

Paul
Paul

 Southlaker, please do not take your frustration out on me.  Basically, I support you in what you are trying to do.

Please do not ask me how I know, but I have way too much experience in dealing with state and federal agencies on environmental matters.

I was trying to state that the course of action should be to get permanent ( or semi permanent) monitoring equipment installed by TCEQ to monitor the air quality over a period of time.

You will need to do more sampling in order to show noncompliance for presence of certain compounds and comparison of those levels at different locations.

Do not be surprised if some one tells you that the cause for the benzene readings is due to your lawnmower or gas that you spilled in your garage.

It will be your responsibility for you to develop the data which supports your claim.  I know that that sounds harsh ... and it is, but that is the situation that you face.

I truly do wish you well and that you are successful.

Southlaker
Southlaker

So, next time, we should call TCEQ, wait anywhere up to 12 hours (that's how long they have to show up) and have them bring us the SAME SUMMA CANISTER  from the SAME LAB they use?  Um, I've seen that drill one too many times around the Barnett Shale.  No, thanks. TCEQ decides whether they will leave a canister or not...most times they walk around with their fancy hand-held detector and simply say.."no emissions found".    Now that we've turned their own process into a proactive homeowner postion, they are all left scratching their head, saying "what do we tell em' now boss??"

JRinDallas
JRinDallas

A script like this...

"Identifying the presence of certain compounds in the air is easy.  Establishing the source of these compounds is very difficult.I wish them the best."

...would make all those commercials with folksy folks layin' down straight domestically sourced energy talk much more interesting.

Paul
Paul

 Identifying the source and extent of any contaminant is not easy, especially at the ppm and ppb levels.

When trying to determine the source of a contaminant, especially an air contaminant, it is necessary to establish both the correlation and the causal link.

Benzene emissions at the ppb level have many sources.  The half life of benzene on a sunny day is quite long.  Depending on wind conditions it can travel quite far.

I'm am not saying that well sites have no benzene emissions, I am merely saying that it is a difficult task to prove (both correlation and causality) that the benzene emissions found are coming from a specific source.

As I said earlier,  I wish Southlaker the best in his/her endeavors.

JRinDallas
JRinDallas

I don't disagree with the falsification problem re: benzene emissions or the many risks associated with oil and gas extraction.

There's a conceit though in how it's sold to the public...that it's perfectly safe.  Lack of data doesn't make the risk zero or insignificant.  It just means we don't know because we've never thought to look or study it because the activity, up until the past 10 years, has mostly occured in places where NIMBY-ism and liability can be pretty much reduced to zero.

A correct PR campaign would have the pleasantly attractive blonde in the pant suit and the 20-something with headphones saying: "We're pretty sure it's safe but not 100% sure because of the dirth of good data, reporting, and peer review.  We also look forward to impugning the results of the many ad hoc studies by cash-strapped and understaffed federal, state, and local agencies.  Many of which are likely compromised because of the revenue we provide to fill their budgets."

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

Good for them. The only way citizens are going to be able to protect themselves and to get solid information, is to be their own advocates.Depending on our city government to do the right thing is no longer an option.

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