FORT WORTH -- Urban drilling dominated discussions Tuesday as City Council members got their first formal presentation on a natural gas air-quality study and talked about letting the city's moratorium on saltwater disposal wells expire.
After hearing a presentation from contractor Eastern Research Group, council members raised some of the same questions that others have had about what's to be gleaned from the $1 million study.
Councilman Jungus Jordan said the council should continue to push the industry to adopt "best practices" to capture as much emissions as possible, which could include looking at alternative power sources for compressors. He noted that the council and the North Central Texas Council of Governments have sent letters to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality urging the natural gas industry to implement best practices in North Texas' Barnett Shale.
"From my standing, compressor stations jump out as low-hanging fruit that we need to address," Jordan said.
Mayor Betsy Price echoed that, saying the city needs to do whatever it can to reduce emissions because North Texas is not complying with federal ozone standards.
Other council members said the report did a poor job of explaining to the public what a safe level of a pollutant is and what is not.
District 7 Councilman Dennis Shingleton asked Eastern Research to put some statistics about benzene, formaldehyde and methane emissions in context so the public can understand whether the levels are safe.
"There's a line between what a scientist produces as a report and what the lay public can understand," Shingleton said.
Using methane as an example, Shingleton said there were no reference points to make the numbers understandable.
"How many tons per year does a 50-acre herd of cattle produce?" Shingleton asked to chuckles from fellow council members. "... We need to make this a little more public-friendly if you will."
The city staff will return to the council Aug. 16 with recommendations from the gas drilling report, and Councilman Sal Espino suggested that the council convene an urban drilling workshop to deal with myriad issues, including saltwater disposal wells and seismic testing.
But a coalition of neighborhood groups says the report lays the groundwork for the city to consider neighborhood air monitoring.
"That's where we need to go next," said Libby Willis, president of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods, who said the report confirmed some of the neighborhood groups' concerns about the presence of formaldehyde and benzene at some sites.
At the pre-council meeting, members discussed whether to let the city's saltwater disposal moratorium expire July 31.
Hillwood Development would like to add a saltwater disposal well in the Alliance Corridor to reduce truck traffic and ease stress on roads.
Shingleton said he was concerned about disposing of the water for good without studying the consequences, and questions were raised about what saltwater evaporation facilities would emit. The council discussed extending the moratorium by 90 days to study the issue further. To extend it, action would be needed at next week's council meeting.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698