Friday, June 26, 2009
EPA echoes activists in challenging Texas' air pollution permits, practices, commission
06:43 AM CDT on Wednesday, June 24, 2009
By RANDY LEE LOFTIS / The Dallas Morning News email@example.com
Groups attacking Texas' environmental policies have gained an important ally: the Obama administration.
Shucking off years of arms-length relations with Texas' anti-pollution activists, the Environmental Protection Agency has reached out to organizations that have challenged state permits and practices.
Download: EPA presentation
Download: TCEQ response
Blog: Energy and Environment
The new federal attitude is already putting pressure on some major Texas industries and on the oft-criticized Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which is run by Republican Gov. Rick Perry's appointees.
In the five months since President Barack Obama took office, the EPA has sided with the TCEQ's critics and blocked the reopening of a controversial copper smelter in El Paso; signaled new federal enforcement against big, state-regulated facilities such as refineries and chemical plants; and threatened to strip Texas of its authority to issue major air pollution permits unless the state agrees to changes.
The EPA also invited leaders of Texas and national environmental groups that are battling the state to a private meeting with Administrator Lisa Jackson on her first visit to Texas as Obama's top environmental appointee. They told Jackson that Texas was "a state under siege" and that the EPA needed to send "reinforcements and enforcement," said Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen, who attended the meeting.
Jackson told The Dallas Morning News in an interview that Texas' environmental regulation has become a major concern of hers. She singled out what she described as inadequate opportunities for the public to review key permit decisions.
"Transparency is something I'm really concerned about, especially here in Texas," Jackson said. "That's an issue we're going to have to address head-on."
Perry has repeatedly defended how Texas regulates toxic emissions from factories, refineries and other big industries, saying the state is protecting jobs along with the environment.
"Governor Perry has proven that stifling government mandates are not the answer to our state's energy and environmental challenges," press secretary Allison Castle said. "Texas has proven it possible to balance sound environmental policies with pro-growth economic efforts that have produced the best business climate in the country."
The TCEQ rejected the federal complaints. In a June 5 letter to the EPA's acting regional administrator in Dallas, Executive Director Mark R. Vickery said the commission meets federal requirements.
Vickery outlined "options for bridging the perceived gaps in our permitting program." He offered to clarify state rules "to reflect the TCEQ's existing practice."
Commission officials provided Vickery's letter to The News but declined to comment on their differences with the EPA.
North Texas residents demanded change at the commission during an EPA hearing last week on new emissions limits for cement kilns.
"Unfortunately, our state environmental agency ... has failed us," Dallas resident Rita Beving told EPA officials.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, told the EPA that the TCEQ had "exhibited a lack of public concern" by refusing to order formal hearings on major permits. The most recent North Texas case came in February, when TCEQ commissioners approved a 10-year permit renewal for TXI's Midlothian cement plant without a formal hearing.
"They've played their hand for too long," Davis said.
During a meeting with state environmental officials May 26, EPA officials laid out "major concerns" with state procedures on key permits. The EPA cited limited public input, lack of public notice for some permits, inadequate emissions accounting and a failure to enforce rules that trigger tougher requirements for new or modified plants.
If the agencies do not resolve their differences, the EPA could revoke Texas' authority to manage permits under the Clean Air Act, according to a presentation the EPA made at the meeting. The EPA later provided a copy to The News.
Like most states, Texas now has authority to handle federal air permits on the EPA's behalf. The EPA retains approval authority over state programs and can formally object to a state-issued permit, as it threatened to do in the case of Asarco's controversial copper smelter in El Paso.
That threat came Feb. 3, just two weeks into the new administration. The EPA said it found numerous legal and procedural problems with Asarco's permit renewal. The EPA said it would order work stopped on the smelter and start enforcement against Asarco if the state did not rescind the permit.
Asarco immediately gave up its permit.
The next week, the TCEQ's commissioners voted 2-1 to renew another contested permit, this one for TXI's Midlothian cement plant. The commissioners rejected numerous requests for a formal hearing, a long, trial-like process.
The contested case hearing is a potentially powerful weapon for a plant's opponents that does not exist in federal law – an example, Texas officials point out, of greater public input under Texas' system.
However, the TXI case also revealed a lack of public scrutiny of state permits. The North Texas environmental group Downwinders at Risk found this month that the TCEQ had approved a modification for TXI – allowing it to burn scrap tires as fuel in its newest Midlothian kiln – with no public notice, chance for public comment or trial burn, a test of how a new fuel affects emissions.
Because burning scrap tires instead of coal, the kiln's typical fuel, usually reduces smog-causing nitrogen oxides, the TCEQ considered the change a pollution reduction project that required no public notice. Environmentalists said they had no chance to review possible increases in other emissions, including metals.
Public interest groups have sued Texas companies under the federal Clean Air Act to force pollution cuts that neither the state nor the EPA had achieved. In one such case, Environment Texas and the Sierra Club sued Shell's massive refinery and chemical complex in Deer Park, near Houston, in early 2008.
Despite Shell's state permits, the environmental groups found more than 1,000 occasions from 2003-06 when emissions exceeded hourly limits, which are meant to protect the public from acute, short-term harm.
On three dates, records showed, Shell emitted more toxic compounds in a single day than its permits allowed in an entire year.
Shell responded in a legal filing that many emissions came during start-ups, shutdowns and maintenance, "clearly contemplated by the state as being an expected part of refinery and chemical plant operations." Until recently, Shell said, the TCEQ did not put permit limits on those emissions.
A settlement signed by a federal judge June 16 requires Shell to cut excess emissions by more than half within three years, improve emissions accounting, change equipment and processes, and pay $5.8 million to Houston-area environmental programs.
The federal government was not a party to the suit, but EPA officials were privy to settlement talks and later repeated many of the lawsuit's themes – including the state's apparent failure to clean up Shell's emissions – in their talks with the TCEQ.
The TCEQ has cited Shell's Deer Park complex for air violations 14 times since 2003, assessing nearly $975,000 in civil fines, records show.
The EPA told the TCEQ that the state had allowed far higher emissions than the EPA would have authorized. The EPA analyzed three plants – Shell, ExxonMobil's Baytown complex and Magellan's East Houston terminal – but said 1,461 Texas plants might have similar issues, suggesting possible future enforcement.
The TCEQ disputed the EPA's assertions.
Neil Carman, clean air director for the Sierra Club's Texas chapter, was involved in the Shell settlement talks. He said the EPA's tough stance on Shell and similar companies represented a significant change.
"It's a sign of the new sheriff in Washington," Carman said.
AT A GLANCE: WHAT EPA, TEXAS SAY
The Environmental Protection Agency says:
•Parts of the Texas permit system do not meet minimum federal requirements.
•The state offers inadequate public notice for both minor and major permits.
•State air pollution plans are incomplete and lack adequate monitoring and compliance provisions.
•The state has not addressed concerns of environmental groups or Houston Mayor Bill White, who is seeking reductions in airborne toxic chemicals.
•The state has missed opportunities to reduce pollution.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says:
•The state's permit system meets all federal rules but might need language changes to clarify compliance.
•Texas permits are written to include all necessary information.
•State air pollution plans include all required information.
•The public has ample opportunities to comment on permits.
•Texas permits provide enforceable and effective limits on pollution.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Even the Gas Industry is nervous
A recent government warning of substandard materials used in several recently built gas pipelines has raised enough concern among pipeline operators to prompt a meet in Houston Wednesday to discuss the possible implications.
For all of our sake, lets hope they listen to this warning
The advisory, put out by the Department of Transportation's Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in late May, casts a wide net and urges all operators to test pipes for specified deficiencies after PHMSA identified problems with two unnamed Interstate pipelines.
Oh here is my favorite
In response, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America is holding a Pipeline Quality Summit to bring together a specific group of pipeline manufacturers and operators to "get the facts" Terry Boss, INGAA"As senior vice president of environment, safety and operations, told Platts.
Closed meeting? Not even the PHMSA is invited. I hope it isn't so they can figure out how to blow smoke up the our you know what.
The meeting will be closed and attendance is by invitation only. "We do not want to inhibit conversations," Boss said. PHMSA will not be at the meeting, but Boss said he plans to "give them full and complete disclosure afterwards"
Monday, June 22, 2009
How can something like this happen and no one has to be accountable?
Why is everything so secret and silent when something of this nature happens?
Gas and oil companies want our trust but don't feel they have to be truthful. This is the problem with the gas drilling industry. We need better regulation period!
Seventeen cattle die at a drilling site, and it's nobody's job to determine officially what killed them. No kidding.
State Department of Agriculture only gets involved with diseased cows.
Department of Environmental Quality? Those folks only fret with stuff spilled on the ground or into a stream.
Public health officials focus on people.
The Office of Conservation mainly oversees where wells get drilled and how.
The property owner is paying for an analysis of animal tissue, but that's his to keep all to himself.
How reassured does all this make you feel if you live near a well site?
Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator feels hornswoggled.
There is an open criminal investigation of the April 28 incident, says Prator, and "we cannot get the answers we need — everybody points fingers at everybody else." The agriculture department even reversed field. Press secretary Sam Irwin told The Times in a May 1 report that a state veterinarian had performed a necropsy on one of the cows, but in a June 13 follow up said, "We don't have them ... It was a DEQ investigation."
The incident is the latest in the Haynesville Shale play to reveal gaps in regulation. Along with depletion of aquifers, it's one more loop that needs to be tightened as local governments try to protect people, roads and the environment from exploration activity.
The state, obviously, isn't helping very much. And while we agree with industry representatives and others that exploration companies want to do the right thing, cattle still died. Well sites blow out. Meanwhile, our state lawmakers mostly sat by with little legislation to offer up this session to better protect the public and delineate enforcement lines.
Prator last week planned to talk to the Caddo district attorney about his legal options in ferreting out necropsy results and other analyses related to his criminal case. DEQ only has said that tests of water and soil contained elevated chlorides, a salt, as well as oil and grease.
More important for the long term is pushing the Caddo Parish Commission, hopefully with other parishes paying attention, to ensure sheriff's deputies get prompt notice of accidents at well sites. Control of the scene can help ensure law enforcement stays in the loop. Prator complained at the time of the cattle deaths that his deputies needed to be on a first responder list. That's largely for public safety since parish deputies are often closest to rural accident sites, but partly to ensure a potential crime scene is protected.
If local officials needed a push to renewed oversight efforts of natural gas exploration, this bit of tragicomedy ought to be impetus enough. It's not about over regulating a valued industry, but as Prator puts it, "logical regulation.'
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Over a month ago cattle died in Louisiana while eating and drinking in a pasture near a drill site. Witnesses say they saw the fluid spewing into the air near the derricks.
Sixteen cattle dropped dead in a northwestern Louisiana field this week after apparently drinking from a mysterious fluid adjacent to a natural gas drilling rig, according to Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality and a report in the Shreveport Times . At least one worker told the newspaper that the fluids, which witnesses described as green and spewing into the air near the drilling derrick, were used for a drilling process called hydraulic fracturing . But the company, Chesapeake Energy , has not identified exactly what chemicals are in those fluids and is insisting to state regulators that no spill occurred.
The problem is that both Chesapeake and its contractor doing the work Schlumberger, say that a lot of these fluids are proprietary, said Otis Randle, regional manager for the DEQ. "It can be an obstacle, but we try to be fair to everybody," he said. "We try to remember that the products they use are theirs and they need them to make a living."
SPRING RIDGE – An unidentified substance that apparently flowed from a natural gas drilling site into a pasture is is being eyed as a potential cause of the deaths of 19 head of cattle Tuesday evening, according to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
The contaminated area is defined as about 20-by-20 yards and is adjacent to the well that Chesapeake Energy Corp. is drilling on state Highway 169 near the corner of Keatchie-Marshall Road in south Caddo Parish. Tests to determine the nature of the milky white substance that had pooled into a low area could take a week to complete, Northwest Regional Director Otis Randle said today.
Authorities believe the cows ingested the liquid before dying. Tracks went to and from the puddles, a Caddo sheriff’s office spokeswoman said.
Nobody owning up to it. I'm not surprised
Chesapeake and its fracing contractor, Schlumberger, have denied knowledge of a chemical release on the site, Randle said. “Nobody is owning up to it.”
EPA Administrator Forecasts Potential Shift on Bush-Era Drilling Loophole
Signaling the potential for an important policy reversal, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a congressional hearing on Tuesday that the agency would consider revisiting its controversial position that a popular natural gas drilling technique doesn't harm groundwater.
A 2004 study  (PDF) conducted by the EPA concluded that hydraulic fracturing  -- a process that involves pummeling the earth with millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to extract natural gas -- causes "no threat" to underground drinking water.
The study is often used by the gas industry to rebut concerns over drinking water contamination. It was also the main basis for a provision in a 2005 energy bill that exempts hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The bill says the process is exempt because it doesn't harm groundwater. Opponents of the exemption are trying to repeal it, and a new study from the EPA would add muscle to their argument.
A ProPublica investigation  co-published with BusinessWeek  last November identified serious flaws in the EPA's 2004 study. We found that the agency negotiated directly with the gas industry before finalizing its conclusions and ignored evidence that the process might indeed contaminate water supplies.
Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) expressed concern  about these issues and recent reports of contamination near drill sites. At a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior hearing on Tuesday, he asked Jackson  whether the emerging evidence would prompt the EPA to revise its previous conclusions.
Jackson said she recognized that the current regulations restrict the EPA's ability to protect groundwater and said the issue "was well worth looking into." But she didn't say how the EPA would approach the problem or whether the 2004 study would be revised.
A spokesperson for Jackson would not elaborate on her remarks.
The statement has stirred optimism  among environmentalists who have been urging the EPA and Congress to repeal the exemption. They feel it's a sign that the Obama administration is willing to take a fresh look at the Bush administration's legacy on gas drilling.
"Big ships turn slowly," said Bruce Baizel, an attorney with the Oil and Gas Accountability Project , "but I think this is the first time EPA has acknowledged that maybe their previous conclusions were not entirely supported by sound science."
Industry representatives contend that fracturing is safe and dispute the claim that the process has been linked to water contamination. They also maintain that fracturing is best regulated by individual states, rather than the federal government.
"The EPA study is one of several studies done by a variety of different interests in the past decade, and I don't believe that there is any compelling evidence that the risk has changed since 2004," said Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America . "The reports mentioned (in the hearing) have been analyzed to show that they are not related to hydraulic fracturing."
CLEBURNE, Texas — A fourth earthquake prompted city officials to hire a geologist and then another earthquake happened about an hour before the emergency meeting.
The fifth earthquake took place Tuesday at 6:19 p.m. and the U.S. Geological Survey measured it at a 2.1-magnitude. Cleburne officials called for an 8 p.m. emergency meeting Tuesday after the fourth earthquake, measuring a 2.6, happened that same day at 5:10 p.m.
No damage or injuries have been reported from the tremors.
Mayor Ted Reynolds said residents want to know whether the earthquakes are connected to natural gas drilling in the town, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
The other earthquakes within the last week had magnitudes of 2.3, 2.6 and 2.8.
Cleburne is 30 miles south of downtown Fort Worth.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Companion Bill to close the "Halliburton Loophole" in the "Clean Water Act" introduced in Washington
(Washington, D.C., June 9) - Today Senators Casey (D-PA) and Schumer (D-NY), and Representatives DeGette (D-CO), Polis (D-CO) and Hinchey (D-NY) introduced bills in the Senate and House to close the so-called "Halliburton Loophole" in the Safe Drinking Water Act that exempts hydraulic fracturing, and to require the public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals. The Halliburton loophole authorizes oil and gas drillers, exclusively, to inject known hazardous materials -- unchecked -- directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies. It passed as part of the Bush Administration's Energy Policy Act of 2005.
"Energy development needn't threaten our drinking water and public health -- but under the Halliburton loophole, it does," said John Fenton, a rancher negatively impacted by drilling activity, and member of the Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens in Wyoming.
Hydraulic fracturing injects fluids under extremely high pressure into an oil or gas well to crack open underground oil and gas formations. The fluids usually contain highly toxic chemicals, and hydraulic fracturing is suspected of contaminating drinking water across the country. Hydraulic fracturing is now taking place in 34 states from New York to Ohio to Colorado.
"When it comes to protecting the public's health, it's not unreasonable to require these companies to disclose the chemicals they are using in our communities especially near our water sources," said U.S. Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO), Vice Chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. "Our bill simply closes an unconscionable Bush-Cheney loophole by requiring the oil and gas industry to follow the same rules as everyone else."
The exemption is known as the "Halliburton loophole" because former Vice President Dick Cheney, ex-CEO of Halliburton, is associated with its creation. Halliburton developed hydraulic fracturing in the 1940s, and remains one of the three largest manufacturers of fracturing fluids.
"It's time to fix an unfortunate chapter in the Bush administration's energy policy and close the 'Halliburton loophole' that has enabled energy companies to pump enormous amounts of toxins, such as benzene and toluene, into the ground that then jeopardize the quality of our drinking water," said U.S. Representative Hinchey (D-NY). "Our legislation says everyone deserves to have safe drinking water by ensuring that hydraulic fracturing is subject to the protections afforded by the Safe Drinking Water Act. The bill also lifts the veil of secrecy currently shrouding this industry practice."
The legislation ensures that a federal minimum standard prohibits endangerment of underground sources of drinking water while allowing states flexibility in implementing that standard. These bills also require disclosure to relevant public agencies of the chemical constituents used in fracturing.
"Oil and gas drilling is important to our local economy," said Michael Rendon, Mayor Pro Tem of Durango, Colorado. "However, the public deserves to know what type of industrial chemicals are in use near their homes and water resources so they can protect themselves and their communities."
As so-called unconventional gas drilling expands across the country, the potential threats to water from this unregulated practice continue to grow. In response, local governments and water districts have passed resolutions that demand action to close the loophole and protect drinking water.
"Let's not let rural New York and other communities suffer the same fate of those that have gone before us," said Don Barber, Supervisor of Town of Caroline and the chair of the Council of Governments in Tompkins County. "Let's get in front on drilling impacts by ensuring that we get the facts about hydraulic fracturing chemicals, and that the oil and gas companies aren't given special treatment, but held accountable to protect our water resources like every other industry."
Like many other local governments across the country, the Township of Nockamixon, Pennsylvania has recently taken steps to protect water and other community resources in the face of drilling. The Township amended local drilling regulations in 2006, and earlier this month they adopted a resolution calling for supporting Congressional action to require fracturing to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act.
"Current regulation of hydraulic fracturing is not sufficient," said Supervisor Chair, Nancy Janyszeski of Nockamixon. "From where I sit, ensuring a federal minimum water standard and disclosing chemical makeup is essential." In 2008 the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) adopted Special Protection Waters (SPW), this month they announced they will require anybody drilling for gas within the area to apply for a drilling permit. All of these efforts are achievements towards responsible drilling and protecting our extremely valuable resource, water."
Several other major environmental protection statutes contain loopholes for the oil and gas industry, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
For More Information
Gwen Lachelt, EARTHWORKS/OGAP, (505) 469-0380
Jennifer Goldman, EARTHWORKS/OGAP, (406) 587-4473
Kristofer Eisenla, Rep. Diana DeGette, 202-225-4431
Jeff Lieberson, Rep. Maurice Hinchey, 202-225-6335
John Fenton, Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens/Powder River Basin Resource Council: 307-856-7098
Michael Rendon, Durango City Councilor, Colorado: (W) 970-250-3074/(H) 970-375-0855
Don Barber, Supervisor, Town of Caroline, New York: 607-345-2579
Nancy Janyszeski, Supervisor, Nockamixon Township, Pennsylvania: 601-847-6928
Kari Matsko, Northeast Ohio Gas Accountability Project: 440-209-0545
Links for more info
Fact sheets, and local resolutions opposing the Halliburton Loophole:
Our Drinking Water at Risk
EARTHWORKS' Oil & Gas Accountability Project:
Northeast Ohio Gas Accountability Project:
Cleburne quakes probably related to gas drilling, expert says
10:04 PM CDT on Monday, June 8, 2009
By SHERRY JACOBSON and DAVID TARRANT / The Dallas Morning News firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Three small earthquakes that rattled Cleburne in the past six days were probably caused by intense natural-gas drilling, the state's leading expert on earthquakes said Monday.
"Most people would probably conclude if they looked at the data that they would be related," said Cliff Frohlich, associate director and senior research scientist at the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin.
Other scientists, however, were not so certain that any connection could be confirmed.
John Breyer, professor of geology at Texas Christian University, said residents need not worry that the drilling could be causing earthquakes.
"Sometimes these things just happen. It's like the weather," he said. "Sometimes it rains a lot and other times not at all."
The tremors appear to be the first ever recorded in Cleburne, a city of 30,000 about 50 miles southwest of Dallas.
Cleburne sits near the heart of the North Texas Barnett Shale gas field. Since 2001, more than 200 natural-gas wells have been drilled within the city limits.
Surrounding Johnson County has more than 1,000 gas wells.
The three quakes registered magnitudes of 2.3, 2.6 and 2.8, which are considered mild. No injuries or damage was reported in the city.
The tremors were detected Monday morning, Sunday evening and last Tuesday afternoon by the U.S. Geological Survey, which tracks earthquakes around the globe.
Nearly 100 Cleburne-area residents also alerted 911 after feeling tremors during the three quakes.
Residents described the quakes as similar to sonic booms without the deafening sound, or like a large truck rumbling down a nearby street.
"The house shook for about a second or so," recalled Cleburne City Manager Chester Nolen. "But nothing fell off the walls."
Frohlich said he made his connection based on "the characteristics of the earthquakes and the fact that there's been an enormous amount of drilling and injection of fluids in that area for recovery of gas."
Link 'not known'
However, the connection was denied by the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council in Fort Worth, a consortium of gas companies that provides information about natural-gas drilling.
Ed Ireland, executive director of the council, noted that the three Cleburne quakes were reported to have occurred three or four miles beneath the surface, while the drilling occurred about a third of that depth.
"I'm not a geologist," he said. "What I'm told is that there has never been shown to be a concrete relationship between drilling and earthquakes. It's not known."
But UT's Frohlich said scientists can locate the map coordinates of an earthquake a lot better than they can locate its depth.
"When the National Earthquake Information Center reports an earthquake at 5 kilometers, that's really a placeholder – meaning it's a shallow earthquake," he said.
"And they don't know whether it was a half a kilometer or 20 kilometers, because those are all shallow earthquakes."
Frohlich, who co-wrote a 2003 book titled Texas Earthquakes, said he believes oil and gas drilling has caused some Texas quakes.
His book studied 100 earthquakes recorded in the Lone Star State between 1811 and 2000. About a quarter of them were near oil and gas fields, he said.
"In most cases, there weren't earthquakes reported there prior to oil and gas drilling activity," he noted. "And so they would be suspected as possible candidates for being produced by oil and gas."
Further, Frohlich said he suspected that a half-dozen minor quakes detected in North Texas over the past nine months could be linked to natural-gas drilling. Since last October, tremors have been reported in Irving, Grand Prairie, Euless and Dallas.
Frohlich conceded it might be difficult to make a precise link between the tremors and gas drilling. "It's very hard to determine causes for sure," he said.
In any event, he said, the public should not be overly alarmed.
"They probably pose no hazard," he said. "And I don't see these earthquakes as the kind of thing that lead to bigger earthquakes."
The U.S. Geological Survey considers Texas a low seismic area, compared with such volatile places as California or Alaska.
"Three earthquakes in six days is very unusual for Texas," noted Paul Caruso, a geologist with the agency's National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.
"What it means we can't really say. Further investigation needs to be done by the state of Texas or the Geological Survey."
Cleburne officials sounded rattled Monday as they considered whether their quakes might not be a natural occurrence.
Mayor Ted Reynolds said he was not ready to blame the widespread drilling for shaking up the community. Still, he called for a study of what might have caused the tremors.
"We will certainly investigate it," he said. "We haven't decided how to do it. But we would be negligent if we didn't."
Scroll down and read this paragraph from the above study on causes of Texas Earthquakes
"Finally, some human activities are known to cause or trigger earthquakes. These include the injection of fluids into the earth for waste disposal or petroleum production, and the filling of deep lakes or reservoirs. In Texas, there have been earthquakes associated with oil and gas production at a number of fields. These include the Wortham field in Freestone County, the East Texas and Longview fields in Upshur and Gregg Counties, the Cogdell field in Scurry and Kent Counties, and the Fashing and Jourdanton fields in Atascosa County. None of these quakes have been very damaging or very large; the largest had magnitude 4.7. And, usually petroleum production does not cause earthquakes; in Texas there are more than two thousand oil and gas fields but only about five seem to have generated earthquakes. Nevertheless, wherever there is considerable petroleum production, and especially when there is fluid injection to enhance recovery of to dispose of waste, people should be aware that induced earthquakes are possible."
Thursday, June 4, 2009
BY MIKE LEE
State environmental officials say that an SMU researcher was correct: Gas drilling in the Barnett Shale contributes about as much air pollution to the Dallas-Fort Worth area as car and truck traffic.
But the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality doesn’t plan on taking any action about chemicals released during gas drilling because they typically happen in rural areas, not in the immediate metro area, where the EPA is forcing state and local governments to control air pollution.
And it’s more efficient to tackle the Metroplex’s air problem by going after other sources of pollution, such as cars and trucks, Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman for the environmental commission, said via e-mail.
Al Armendariz, an engineering professor at Southern Methodist University, published a study in February about the amount of air pollution released by Barnett Shale gas drilling. Industry groups attacked the study as biased, so Armendariz recalculated the numbers using data the commission collected.
"The estimates Dr. Armendariz provides for individual source categories are comparable to the TCEQ estimates," Morrow said. But, "Most of the Barnett Shale area is currently in attainment for the ozone standard, and the TCEQ cannot selectively regulate certain industries in these counties."
Tons per day
Armendariz estimated that, in the nine-county Metroplex area, gas drilling produced about 112 tons per day of pollution, compared with 120 tons per day from vehicle traffic. In a 20-county area, including rural counties, he estimated that gas drilling produced 191 tons per day.
The pollution comes from a couple of major sources. The tank batteries used to store wastewater and condensate, which is a light form of crude oil, often vent to the atmosphere. The motors used to drive pipeline compressors often have no pollution controls. And drillers frequently vent natural gas to the atmosphere when they complete a well.
The commission’s numbers come within 25 percent of Armendariz’s original calculations: 90 tons per day in the nine-county area, 200 per day in the larger area. The calculations "appear reasonable," Morrow said.
Where the commission differs is how to fix the pollution. The area is under orders from the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the amount of ground-level ozone. Levels have been falling, but the area is still above the federal standard, Morrow said.
There are two primary ingredients to ozone: Volatile organic compounds, like the petroleum vapors that leak from the storage tanks in the Barnett Shale, and nitrous oxides, which are released by car exhausts and other sources.
Focus stays on vehicles
The commission believes it’s easier to address ozone by reducing the amount of nitrous oxides. The easiest way to do that is to reduce pollution from cars and trucks. The volatile organic compounds can be toxic, but they’re harder to control, Morrow said.
Also, she said, "The biggest gas-producing counties in the Barnett Shale are contiguous to D-FW. However, the prevailing winds in the D-FW area are such that emissions from the Barnett Shale are carried away from the D-FW area."
Armendariz and the Environmental Defense Fund, which paid for his study, suggested using available technology to reduce the pollution released at gas-related sites: Vapor-control systems on tank batteries and "green completions" to prevent gas from being released when a well is being connected to pipelines.
A bill to require green completions in the Barnett Shale died in the recent legislative session. Still, Armendariz said he was hopeful. "It is clear that in the future, state and federal regulators will have a more accurate picture of the true magnitude of emissions from the oil/gas sector in this part of Texas," he said. "I hope the industry realizes that the days of venting methane and hydrocarbons to the atmosphere are probably numbered."
MIKE LEE, 817-390-7539