Texas Freezes Agency's Funding Over Release of Data Linking Fracking to Ozone Pollution

Categories: The Environment

Daniel Foster
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has consistently said that fracking has no significant impact on air quality, not in the Barnett Shale. Not in the Eagle Ford Shale. Not anywhere.

It was news, then, when a TCEQ-funded study, performed by the Alamo Area Council of Governments, a San Antonio-area regional planning agency, suggested a link between oil and gas drilling and a recent surge in the region's ozone levels.

Was TCEQ finally admitting that the fumes being belched out by gas wells and compressor stations might be having a negative effect on air quality? Far from it. So miffed was the agency that it froze funding for the Alamo COG.

The Statesman's Asher Price has the scoop.

The Alamo group, composed of officials representing local governments over a 12-county area, did not share the report's data beforehand with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which had paid for its collection.

So when it came time last fall to dole out money to councils of government from across the state -- including the council from the Austin area -- all but the Alamo area council were rewarded with a roughly 30 percent uptick in Legislature-appropriated money to carry out air quality monitoring and planning work.

TCEQ air quality division director David Brymer told the American-Statesman that the Alamo area council violated a contract with the state environmental agency.

"We had some issues with (the Alamo area council), not necessarily complying with all their contractual obligations," Brymer said.

The Alamo group "presented some information to the public and the media that we had paid for but hadn't seen yet," Brymer said. "As in most contractual relationships we'd want to see that first."

Alamo COG's funding stayed flat at $569,800. Had it been given an increase comparable to its peers, it would have received an additional $180,000.

Jim Schermbeck, head of the local environmental advocacy group Downwinders at Risk, sees politics at play.

"The level of thuggery in this administration is amazing," he says, suggesting that TCEQ was punishing Alamo COG for publishing information that put the oil and gas industry in a bad light.

Metropolitan areas in Texas are struggling to meet a new federal ozone threshold of 75 parts per billion by the end of 2018. Evidence showing significant ozone pollution coming from the oil and gas industry could tip areas like Dallas-Fort Worth (which is already failing) and San Antonio into nonattainment, thereby spurring costly anti-smog regulations.

"It's all about the modeling," Schermbeck says. "You have to estimate what the ozone levels are going to be by the time your deadline comes around."

Figuring out ozone contributions from other sources -- cars, cement plants, power plants, etc. -- is straightforward and well established. But there's no standard way for measuring oil and gas emissions, which means the estimates of their contribution to ozone levels depends very much on who's doing the estimating.

Texas officials, Schermbeck says, have an incentive to design their models in such a way as to show that fracking has negligible impact on air quality. That, he suspects, is why TCEQ came down so hard on the Alamo COG; their data contradicted the party line.

Schermbeck is pushing to keep Texas' air quality models as honest as possible. He'll be at the North Central Texas Council of Governments in Arlington on Thursday for the inaugural public presentation of the UNT paper linking fracking to DFW smog.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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I figured (and blogged about) how ten years of Barnett Shale drilling using diesel rigs (jus 4 the drilling phase) is equal to about 1,479 years of NOX that General Motors would make.


As much as Perry doesn’t want the RRC & TCEQ employees ( and COG ) to go after the oil and gas industry using the excuse that “methane isn’t highly reactive to generate ozone” is not addressing that ozone is created when...

1) All of the Barnett Shale onroad vehicle (combustion related) emissions in extracting methane has direct NOX creation..

2) All phases of natural gas cradle to grave methane losses to our atmosphere eats our stratospheric protective ozone which is warming to our troposphere. This indirectlycreates ground level ozone due to higher temperatures playing a part in reactivity…ie high noon/warmer temps is when ozone spikes.

a) Drilling phase with diesel engines’ combustion creates NOX…

b) Fracking phase using diesel fuel creates NOX..

c) Fracking using hybrid engines where they burn natural gas (nasty field gas) and switch back to diesel fuel during idling also directly creates NOX..


d) Fracking/rock cracking creates direct ozone effects ..

e) Flowback phase has methane losses (indirect ozone creation) before green completion equipment are employed- they need to use pressurized, closed, ventless flowback tanks for the top flowback phase…

f) Methane losses on emptying storage tanks in production phase indirectly creates ozone

g) Injection wells and any fracturing that causes seismic events where rocks crack also creates direct ozone effects.


Any Questions?


So Dallas, where there is very little drilling activity compared to the rest of the state is already failing.. but San Antonio is not? 

Seems like the conclusion would be easy to draw by looking at a map of drilling and well permits.

everlastingphelps topcommenter

I wonder how the Observer would handle it if Schutze put all his articles up on his personal blog before he published them here.

When he got fired, would they say it is because the Observer didn't want what he was writing published?


@kimfeil ah the sound and smell of money being made, thanks for sharing


@bvckvs has a DO article about the oil and gas industry ever made sense?


@WhyDontYouJoinNAMBLA anti-frackers don't deal in facts they'll use whatever they can to support their wild-eyed theories


@pak152 @kimfeil  money is funny the kind of funny that a clown face-the sad one has...like the deepest pit of your soul is


@pak152 @bvckvs  DO is getting the information from the story in The Statesmen. And while TCEQ doesn't fund the Councils of Government, my understanding is that TCEQ does control the portion of the funding that they provide.


@dingo @kimfeil @pak152  eliminated by outdated infrastructure too expensive to be rehabbed or too costly to run verses low priced NG...but some will switch back to coal if NG gets higer in price...we all suffer with either one...now the wind and the sun...ahhh free energy inputs...hmmn


@kimfeil @pak152 

Or the clown face sad that coal fired plant pollution causes that has been eliminated due to ample natural gas supplies.

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