Environmental Protection

TCEQ: Air Monitors Show No Levels of Concern in Barnett Shale Area

The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (CEQ) recently said that, after more than a month of continuous, around-the-clock air monitoring data from two new air monitors in the Barnett Shale area, there have been no chemicals detected at levels of concern.

The monitors, in Dish and Eagle Mountain, were installed earlier this year in response to concerns about emissions caused by oil and gas operations in the Barnett Shale.

“We are committed to continuing our efforts to monitor air quality throughout the Barnett Shale and to respond to the residents of the area,” said TCEQ Executive Director Mark Vickery. “Putting an emphasis and additional reporting requirements on activities in urbanized areas will reduce overall emissions and improve air quality.”

The commission has learned a great deal, including the need for additional long-term air monitoring data. The absence of long-term data leads to a confusing message to the general public and the media. Simply taking an instantaneous air sample and then trying to draw conclusions about a long-term health concern is a difficult and complex scientific task, and made all the more difficult when dealing with measured amounts of chemicals that are very low.

TCEQ has added around-the-clock monitors in Dish and Eagle Mountain to address this issue and to obtain long-term data, and is adding another two near Decatur and Briaroaks this fall, and possibly another after that. Additional monitors are located in northwest Fort Worth and Dallas. So far, none of these are showing levels of chemicals above any long- or short-term concerns.

Internal reviews of TCEQ’s sampling protocols revealed deficiencies that have been addressed through better sampling techniques and how air samples are collected to ensure the most precise results. Sampling conducted in Fort Worth during December 2009 indicated no immediate health concerns but did not provide the level of precision expected. Subsequent analysis of those same samples using a more precise method confirmed that there was not an immediate threat but did show a presence of very low levels of benzene in four samples.

"Regrettably, we missed an opportunity to provide the information to city officials and bolster their confidence in the quality of the air in Fort Worth," said Vickery.

Samples in the same area conducted in early February 2010 showed very low levels of benzene and were consistent with ambient air. This is an area that TCEQ is continuing to monitor in order to gather longer term data. The data shows that there are no immediate health concerns in the Barnett Shale area. Communication with the public is critical, and the agency will continue to make improvements in this area. Should any pollutant ever exceed a level of immediate concern, the agency will take decisive action to notify the public and take corrective measures.

The benzene levels at stationary monitors are lower than in metropolitan areas around the country. The monitors have detected low levels of non-toxic chemicals such as ethane from natural gas activities. Initial data is indicating that while natural gas operations do produce measurable amounts of emissions, the air quality around the operations is safe.

TCEQ added six new investigators to its Dallas-Fort Worth office early this year to handle the increased activity in the Barnett Shale. The office is getting about one complaint per day, and complaints are investigated within a few hours of receipt.

A helicopter equipped with a GasFind IR camera recently completed a series of survey flights over the Barnett Shale. The GasFind IR camera can see emissions of volatile organic compounds that are invisible to the naked eye. The helicopter survey looked at more than 5,500 storage tanks and gas equipment. Eighty sites with potential emissions were noted by the survey crew, and to date follow-up investigations have been conducted at 47 of those sites. Analysis of those investigations is continuing, but so far no emissions exceedances have been found.

An agency-wide team is working to draft new rules for oil and gas permits. The effort is on schedule to present the new rules for consideration by TCEQ commissioners on July 28.

For more information related to air monitoring in Dish, Texas, visit Earthworks Air Quality Tests Contradict Shale Natural Gas Claims.

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