Earthworks: Air Quality Tests Contradict Shale Natural Gas Claims

On May 3, a team of environmental scientists presented findings from a two-day emissions gas detection project showing methane levels as much as 20 times above normal background levels in the air around several counties in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

"These findings raise troubling questions about shale gas industry pollution not only in Texas but for states nationwide where shale gas drilling and production is planned or under way," said Wilma Subra, Earthworks board member, environmental chemist and MacArthur grant recipient.

The results were collected by an undercover team driving an unmarked white van around the metroplex to test a new measurement technology that enables drive-by emissions testing on shale gas drilling and pumping facilities ─ without leaving the vehicle or slowing down from normal driving speeds.

Methane is a surrogate gas for benzene, xylene and other toxic and carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). As a greenhouse gas that is roughly four-times more potent than carbon dioxide, methane is also a significant contributor to the ongoing climate crisis.

The test results were presented to Dish Mayor Calvin Tilman at a special meeting to discuss the findings.

The sampling team, which included Subra and environmental testing firm Wolf Eagle Environmental, was able to approach and circle the pumping facilities without detection. Previously, companies that own and operate the shale gas installations had spotted sampling teams and turned off compressor and other production operations that produce emissions gases.

In one area, concentrations of methane from emissions plumes were so high that the instrument ─ manufactured by Picarro Inc. ─ reached the higher end of its detection range at 40-50 parts per million. When Subra and Wolf Eagle Environmental Chief Executive Officer Alisa Rich contacted air quality regulators, they learned that the Flower Mound facility had failed to report an emissions event, as required by state and federal law.

"These jaw-dropping results show that the shale gas industry is not to be trusted with public health", said Sharon Wilson, organizer for the Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project. "Texas OGAP and EARTHWORKS are considering ways to bring unannounced emissions detection to other shale gas regions ─ and other mining, digging and drilling facilities ─ around the country."

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