DFW Breathes Some of America's Worst Air, and Fracking May Be Partially to Blame

Categories: Environment

640px-Fracking_operation.JPG
Joshua Doubek
Assorted fracking equipment.

Of North Texas' 7 million residents, 1.5 million have asthma, lung disease, heart disease or diabetes. Simply by living here those residents suffer the risk of additional complications beyond those that would normally accompany their diagnoses.

According to a report by the Texas Tribune, the Dallas region has ozone levels that far exceed federally mandated limits. For a time, beginning in 2000 and ending in 2007, air quality in the area actually improved. It was still way outside off what the EPA considers healthy, but things were getting better, thanks largely to improved auto emissions standards. After 2007 what had been a steady decline in ozone stopped, right around the Barnett Shale-induced fracking boom.

A presentation made to the North Central Texas Council of Governments shows that the ozone monitors that most consistently show levels that endanger public health are located, almost exclusively, in Tarrant and Denton Counties, both of which have a high number of fracking wells -- something that is, of course, a source of consternation for many residents.

Last October, the Dallas County Medical Society petitioned the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to lower the levels of pollution allowed by the area's coal-fired power plants.

See also: Denton Didn't Ban Fracking Last Night, but Voters Will Get a Chance to in November

The commission denied the request based on the advice of staff. Brian Shaw, the commission's chairman, even suggested to doctors who testified that the ozone limits should actually be raised, according to the Tribune.

Doctors, scientists and activists believe the decision is reflective of the state's desire to protect the so-called "Texas Miracle" regardless of any future environmental cost.

"When you see Rick Perry start running for president," Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders at Risk says, "everything starts to change. [Regulators] start backtracking on positions that they had earlier and they start finding new ways to dismiss controls."

As the longest sitting governor in Texas history, Perry has had the opportunity to stack both the TCEQ and the bureaucratic layers below it with people who care more about politics than science, Schermbeck says. Those appointees seem unwilling to do anything that might bring the ozone levels down, instead relying on things like more efficient cars to bring North Texas air in line.

"The meme has always been, 'Oh, it's about cars,'" he says. "Not so much anymore. Cars are getting a 90 percent reduction in stuff out the tailpipe, whereas industry is not doing nearly as well."

The way to reduce the ozone levels at the most stubborn sites is to slow emissions from oil and gas drilling -- as well as the equipment they require -- and cement kilns, the heavy polluters Schermbeck's organization has fought for years, he says.

According to modeling reported in the presentation to NCTCOG, relying only on improved auto technology to improve air quality will leave the monitors in Tarrant and Denton counties with readings still over the federal limit in 2018, the year the state is targeting -- after failing by earlier goals of 1996, 1999, 2005, 2009 and 2013 -- to meet the standards.

The Barnett Shale Energy and Education Council told the Tribune that Barnett drillers act responsibly and that there is no solid evidence that emissions from their activities are harmful.

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55 comments
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kimfeil
kimfeil

Just the diesel powered surface equipment needed for each phase of NG extraction not counting the toxic, produced water storage tanks emit VOCs and NOX, multiply that by the 18,000 Barnett Shale wells and wa lah...poisonus air + already urbanized unhealthy air = unregulated, highly synergisic risks with what we breathe....s’not rocket science

joeinbost
joeinbost

20%   Rick will tell you not that BAD


fishcreekneighbor
fishcreekneighbor

Not too long ago in order to pass inspection, I spent over $350 to replace the oxygen sensor on my automobile.  Meanwhile, frack sites spew black plumes of smoke inside our residential neighborhoods.  Lovely.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

Most oil and gas wells, and the tools used for their production, are located far away from Dallas.  And, what little fracking we have going on is has a negligible impact on air quality when compared to all other sources of pollution. 


In fact, it was recently proved that producing wind turbines created more pollution that the savings they would theoretically provide. 


Cars, buses, aircraft, and various manufacturing processes create the majority of our pollution, and the more clogged our streets, expressways, and highways become, the more pollution we get.  (A moving car creates less pollution than a car sitting on idle in a traffic jam.)


Trying to get rid of fracking for political and social reasons in the name of less pollution, is like going after lightning bugs in a mosquito-infested swamp. In fact, the natural gas produced from fracking actually contributes to LESS air pollution because natural gas is much cleaner and contains less lead than gasoline and its derivatives.

EdD.
EdD.

Sure, the "scientists" and "experts" blame fracking but the city knows the real cause: a certain car wash in south Dallas. Once that thing's shut down, we'll all breathe easier.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

Wind power is another cause.  Cause of the itenerate nature of wind power, we've had to retain our dirtiest old coal plants for Summer generation.  This is a time when the wind doesn't blow, due to the High pressure "cap" over us.  


TedWillson
TedWillson

'Doctors, scientists and activists believe...'

How long did Steve work on this blog post in order to confirm the beliefs of the above groups? Or did he just cherry-pick like all the other advocacy journos of the Voice Nation? Laying out both sides and allowing the readers to make up their own minds is too much like hard work and the journalism of yesteryear.

cajunscouse9
cajunscouse9

What a complete load of unsubstantiated crap.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

What small value is placed on the lives of infants, the elderly and other fragile human beings in the interest of making more money. What a small value is placed on life itself.

pak152
pak152

what else can we blame on oil & gas exploration and production?

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

@kimfeil 

@kimfeil Having Google this in pieces, I find that many of you are citing spurious studies whose results are quoted over and over. 


Air content and air quality are measured in ppm (parts per million) of gases, vapors, and respirable particulate compared against a very variable scale in terms of size in microns.  The chemical content of these substances is also of interest, but often not relevant to respiration. 

While I appreciate all the inventory information, it doesn't mean a thing until there are scientific measurements of the gases and particulate produced, the operating altitude (the higher the altitude the more competition with O2), operational temperatures, and the closeness or distance of the population to the equipment and gases/particulate produced etc. 

The photo above means nothing.  Idle equipment is idle equipment. 

I have seen very few problems with fracking, as long as it is done according industry and monitoring regulations.  It is also true that the content of the injection fluid used in fracking is getting better/safer all the time

jsballardx
jsballardx

@noblefurrtexas show me this study that says wind turbines cause more pollution than they would prevent. Honestly, do you have any real studies for this? 


This reeks of bs. 

schermbeck
schermbeck

@noblefurrtexas "Most oil and gas wells, and the tools used for their production, are located far away from Dallas."In Dallas yes, because citizens have kept them out. But to the Southeast (upwind) there's now more permitted pollution from gas and oil sources than from the coal-fired power plants located there, and in Tarrant, Denton, Johnson, Wise, Parker and Ellis Counties there are thousands of gas and oil sources including 647 huge compressors large enough to be counted as their own separate point sources that do manage to influence air quality quite a bit in North Texas. These are not my numbers, they're from the TCEQ. It's a shame none of you skeptics even bother to read the original article, which is full of these things called facts. Allergies, I guess. 

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@TedWillson A few key words you might not be comprehending, even though they're in your own comment.


1) 'blog post'.  not News Article.  Anyone can write a blog post.

2) 'journalism' - Due to solid academic training, a journalist can write hundreds of words on virtually any topic without possessing a shred of information - Paraphrased from Dave Barry.

3) 'advocacy journalist' - one who can't write, doing interviews with people who can't think, for people who can't read.  (actually the definition of rock journalism per Frank Zappa)

schermbeck
schermbeck

@TedWillson Here's both sides: 1) Doctors, scientists and clean air groups, and, 2) Rick Perry's TCEQ. Did you even bother to read the Tribune Piece?

TedWillson
TedWillson

@JimSX 

What small value do we place on solving the existing problems of DISD before allowing tens of thousands of diseased and uneducated alien children into the system and placing that burden on citizen taxpayers?

TedWillson
TedWillson

@pak152 

Climate change, inflation, healthcare, immigration, IRS, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, Alzheimer's and the heartbreak of psoriasis?

schermbeck
schermbeck

@pak152 When you have to exempt a practice from the Safe Water Drinking Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act in order to set up shop, it's a pretty solid signal that lots of bad things are in store. And sure enough, all kinds of official studies (including ones from TCEQ itself, although it's loathe to admit it) now confirm that gas industry sources (drill sites, compressors, tanks, pipelines, truck traffic) are contributing in a big way to regional smog problems - not just here but all over the country. In DFW's case, the industry's emissions are so large as to make up the difference in other categories that are seeing reductions. Thus, a stagnation in air quality progress.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

@jsballardx It wasn't an article.  It was an interview with a scientist who does research on air quality.  He made the point of how many wind turbines and solar systems were produced, but few of them are connected to the grid.  At that point he made the statement that 1)  all of the wind and solar systems in the country couldn't produce the energy of one coal mine, and that the manufacturer of these alternative systems created more pollution than the savings from the systems. 


In West Texas, only a fraction of the many wind turbines are actually connected.  I got that from a power official and someone from Atmos having lunch at the same hotel where I was staying in Lubbock.


You can probably find both if you look hard enough.  Sorry  I can't help you beyond that.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

@schermbeck @noblefurrtexas There are several reasons, not to mention the fact that almost all of Dallas is north of the Austin Chaulk and East of several gas-containing formations and West Texas oil.  It is also too far West to enjoy oil resources such as Kilgore.


If you don't like Texas, you're always welcome to vote with your feet.  We're a critical oil and gas state in a world of oil sold to us by countries who hate us.


So, the strategic value of Texas oil and gas resources cannot be understated, and those resources have - in past years - paid for much of the educiton of Texans.

TedWillson
TedWillson

I'm hoping you're actually Golden Richards.

1) this is Unfair Park-the blog section of DO

2) roger that

3) agree on music criticism as well although FZ tarred himself with the same brush in his comment

All the free dead tree weeklies practice advocacy journalism it seems. Editorials advocate while journalism lays out facts.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

@schermbeck @TedWillson There are musicians who believe all violins in a symphony orchestra should be of the Stradivarius variety, even though they are rare and outlandishly expensive. Likewise, clean air fanatics believe we should live in the dark and freeze to death with no heat....but breathe well. 


Show me a town with pristine air, and I'll show you a coastal town or one with few jobs, few industries, few cars, few people, and which gets what energy it has from other cities. 


Living in an industrialized society means we're going to have bi-products of energy production to contend with.  Yet, every year, energy and industrial production becomes cleaner, less polluting,, more efficient, and less problematic. 


Consider the LA has some of the worst and most polluted air on the planet, in part due to its geological location and the city essentially being a bowl that hols air.  Yet, people aren't dropping like flies because of heart disease, asthma, lung disease, and eye problems in much higher rates than any other industrialize city. 


Mush of this is a lot of social hand wringing for nothing.

TedWillson
TedWillson

@schermbeck 

What is your authority to speak for all doctors and scientists?

pak152
pak152

@schermbeck citations for the exemptions or do I just accept what you say on faith alone?
but what else can we blame on the O&G industry? come on i'm sure you can think of something

feldnick
feldnick

@noblefurrtexas @jsballardx You cited the 'source'. Why is it the duty of the reader to prove the veracity of this supposed "study"? Don't you bear any responsibility for your opinion?


RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@TedWillson Since the DO is admittedly and proudly a biased publication (although they do often have stories that are more balanced than supposed 'trustworthy' news organizations) and not a traditional newspaper, it stands to reason their blog section would be even more biased (even though, it isn't.  Odd how that works, isn't it?)

schermbeck
schermbeck

@noblefurrtexas @schermbeck @TedWillson In fact, there are all kinds peer-reviewed studies showing that in places where air pollution is above the level found to cause public health harms, there are more numerous cases of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, and early mortality including LA and DFW. But that would require you read to read the really big words and long sentences in in medical journals and the like, and believe in something called hard science. Too much trouble I know. But the rest of us find it useful for decision-making.

schermbeck
schermbeck

@pak152 @schermbeck I would refer you to the 2005 Energy Bill, authored by one Dick Cheney, which hosts those exemptions and more. Before passage, no urban drilling. After passage, lots of urban drilling. Please also refer to the Clean Air Act that exempts the industry from having to "off-set" emission increases - like every other industry has to in a smoggy area like DFW. And..gee, isn't increases in toxic air pollution, smog, truck traffic accidents, water depletion, water contamination, climate change and earthquakes enough for you?

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

@feldnick @noblefurrtexas @jsballardx "Don't you bear any responsibility for your opinion?"

I bear 100% responsibility for my opinion.  But, I bear no responsibility for justifying it if I wish not do.  Most of the time I do, but it's not an obligation.

The EPA lies and cheats.  Most of their senior employees are both fanatics, and tokens (like Al Armendariz). Example:  CO2 is a toxic gas that also causes Global Warming.  It's really difficult to crowd that many fraudulent statements into one short sentence.

Want to see how toxic CO2 is?   Go to any hospital emergency room where the common treatment for hypervientilation is placing a paper bag over the patient's nose and mouth so he can breathe CO2. 

Or....go to an ice house, get some dry ice, place it in a cooler, and breathe the CO2 as it melts and turns into a vapor.  You won't die, or even get sick. 

We also caught EPA executives cheating by avoiding accountability and against the law.  How?  Using non-government email addresses not subject to subpoena if they are not known. 

 

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@feldnick @noblefurrtexas @jsballardx As an opinion, yes he bears responsibility for having it.  He does not have an obligation to 'prove' it is right or wrong.  It's his opinion.  Seems pretty simple.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

@schermbeck @noblefurrtexas @TedWillson I would cordially invite you to see my posted reply to Kimfell above, where I discuss how air pollution and process contamination are measured, and their relative importance to health. 

But, you also have to decide how you trade-off pristine air quality for jobs and economic considerations.  Along the Texas coast from Baytown to Houston to Fort end and Brazoria, you will find industries and resources without which America would be in serious trouble.  On various days, the coast breezes offer very clean air.  On other days, the air quality would please those who don't breathe air they can't see. 


Air pollution is relative ; not absolute.

TedWillson
TedWillson

@schermbeck @pak152 

is this where I shiver uncontrollably at the mere mention of Cheney and the veracity and integrity of your position becomes crystal clear?

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@schermbeck @pak152 I think he was looking for citations on the studies you mentioned.  Should be easy to find the studies you are referring to with a simple search of fracking on the UP website.

Benjam
Benjam

@schermbeck @TedWillson @pak152 Correct but since it is called that why are the companies that hire Halliburton, Baker Hughes & other well "servicers" unfairly blamed for non-disclosure?

schermbeck
schermbeck

@dingo @schermbeck @RTGolden1 @pak152 The important difference being of course that these are not new collections of data gathered by independent third parties like academia or research institutes, but spinning by of that data by industry hacks with no credentials except their paychecks.

dingo
dingo

@schermbeck @dingo @RTGolden1 @pak152 

My skepticism lies in the same vein as the sentiments expressed in this statement:

Olaguer claims that sources other than oil and gas sites “were subject to control at the time” (including automobiles), from which he leaps to the conclusion that those sources must have reduced emissions enough to offset increased emissions from oil and gas. 

schermbeck
schermbeck

@Benjam @schermbeck @dingo @RTGolden1 @pak152 Don't know about that result. The number I saw in the presentation (during the day) still put the Denton monitor out of compliance with a 75 ppb standard, along with two other monitors. However, 1) if it's as correct as the past five TCEQ estimates for such things, you can write it off now, and, 2) did you take notice as to why the numbers in this new modeling run went down for the Denton monitor? A drop in oil and gas emissions....

schermbeck
schermbeck

@Benjam @schermbeck @dingo @RTGolden1 @pak152 I don't need a citation. I was there at the meeting. You can see the presentations online at the COG website. The state actually admitted a link between downward revisions in oil and gas emissions, and downward revisions in ozone levels. Stick by those TCEQ estimates if you want, (last time they predicted declining ozone levels in DFW, smog actually increased) but understand that they come from cuts in oil and gas, disproving your point exactly. 

Benjam
Benjam

@schermbeck @Benjam @dingo @RTGolden1 @pak152   I don't need to go to meetings I can see w. my own eyes more companies are using best practices & that drilling is down, so of course we are going to see improved numbers! Why can't you? "These are not my numbers, they're from the TCEQ. It's a shame none of you skeptics even bother to read the original article, which is full of these things called facts"

schermbeck
schermbeck

@Benjam @schermbeck @dingo @RTGolden1 @pak152 Likewise:

"Instead, the agency used new traffic and Barnett Shale production data to make its latest round of predictions for 2018. Emissions from traffic and from the Barnett are expected to drop enough that the region should still come into compliance by 2018, Kite said." Gas production goes down, smog goes down. Has nothing to do with "best practices," which are not quantified in this study. Has everything to do with O&G production going down. Please come back when you know what you're talking about.

Benjam
Benjam

@schermbeck @Benjam @dingo @RTGolden1 @pak152  So you are saying no gas company in the Barnett has made any improvements in the way they do business in the last 5 years? Come on Jim, I respect what you have done w. TXI in Midlothian, Mr. Golden respectfully told you he misread one of your posts, we are really all in this together & not out to ruin the environment where we live & breathe! Please meet us in the middle & admit, when done correctly we can develop a "bridge" to cleaner air w. less coal use & less dependence on countries that want to kill us.

schermbeck
schermbeck

@Benjam @schermbeck @dingo @RTGolden1 @pak152 You started this latest round by claiming that the article in question proved your point that gas pollution isn't causing smog problems in DFW. In fact, it proves just the opposite. Now you're on a whole different line that has nothing to do with the article and is based only on your own biased "observations." Improvements could have been made, but they haven't been quantified in the field, where it counts, and in fact every third party study lately has shown that the emissions from gas facilities are under-estimated by operators and government alike. Everybody loves enviros when we're not criticizing their industry, which of course could never be as bad as those other guys. There are many ways in which the fight over fracking mirrors the fight over the Midlothian kilns - including the party line that the kilns could not possibly be affecting DFW air quality. 

Benjam
Benjam

@schermbeck @Benjam @dingo @RTGolden1 @pak152  Jim, Jim, Jim. I try and be nice & you misrepresent what I say & go back on the statement about TCEQ that I quoted verbatim from you! So hear it is... I said that according to TCEQ we will be in compliance by 2018. How exactly is that making any claim that BS is not causing smog problems? You would have to be pretty dumb to believe that any activity that uses as much diesel equipment & moves as much rock & dirt as we do was not at least partially responsible for the smog in this area! Now this is your turn to play nice & tell me I'm not an idiot and that you will join me in my new crusade to close Acme Brick in Denton. It only seems fair if we are going to ban fracking completely

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