More air monitors coming to Tarrant County this month

Posted Friday, Oct. 05, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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Additional air monitors designed to keep tabs on emissions from natural gas activities in the Barnett Shale are close to being deployed, with two units planned to go into operation this month, another by year's end and a fourth early next year.

That's in addition to a monitor installed in southwest Arlington this summer, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

All are automated gas chromatograph (auto-GC) monitors, which sample the air nearly around the clock, analyze it for dozens of chemical compounds associated with oil and gas operations, and post the results within hours on the TCEQ's website.

"We think these monitors are very well placed" to give regulators an effective picture of emissions from oil and natural gas operations, said Mike Honeycutt, director of TCEQ's toxicology division. The Barnett Shale is one of the nation's largest natural gas fields, underlying Tarrant, Johnson and a number of neighboring counties.

Keith Sheedy, who directs the agency's placement of monitors, said the locations were selected based on surveys that included environmental, community, academic and municipal representatives. The monitors require about a 40-by-40-foot piece of land, which can be difficult to obtain and which sometimes influences which monitors can be installed first.

Units are scheduled to be installed this month at the University of Texas at Arlington and in Mansfield. Another near Rhome, in Wise County, should go into operation in December. The fourth new monitor, near O.D. Wyatt High School in Fort Worth, has been tricky to install but should go into operation early next year.

When the latest round of monitors are in place, there will be 12 of the auto-GC units in North Texas, including 11 installed in the Barnett Shale since 2010. The other monitor is located near Dallas Love Field and dates to 1996.

While some drilling critics question how effective such a limited number of monitors can be, Honeycutt said they are part of a broader network that has made Texas' air the most tested in the nation. Dozens of other monitors in North Texas look for particular compounds, such as ozone or volatile organic compounds, and short-term sampling is also conducted manually in response to specific complaints from residents or city officials, Honeycutt said.

Wilma Subra, a Louisiana environmental chemist who has worked with communities to identify hazardous pollutants, said the auto-GC monitors "show a trend of what's going on" with air quality in a region and can detect unusual emissions at least a mile away, depending on the size of the event.

"In a way, it is a way of figuring out what is happening in real time. You can go online and see what's going on" and do further testing if the monitor shows problems, Subra said.

Jim Fuquay, 817-390-7552

Twitter: @jimfuquay

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