State takes action over odors from Arlington gas wells

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has initiated an enforcement action against Carrizo Oil & Gas in connection with complaints by an Arlington woman that she has suffered mounting health problems as a result of fumes and odors from a natural gas pad site.

"I'm very thankful it has happened," Sandra DenBraber said of the commission's action.

She lives less than 600 feet from the Carrizo pad site, which has 22 wells and is on the University of Texas at Arlington campus.

"I have been pushing for enforcement for more than two years, nine months," DenBraber said.

The commission said it initiated the action based on statements from DenBraber and her longtime physician, Dr. Alfred Johnson of Richardson.

DenBraber, a former registered nurse, said she has received Social Security disability benefits since the 1980s as a result of extreme chemical sensitivities and allergies. Her allergies were "under control" before drilling began in late 2007 at the Carrizo site, she said.

Her doctor, in a statement to the commission, said her health problems include asthma, migraine headaches, coughing, shortness of breath, nasal congestion, elevated blood pressure, aching joints and increased fatigue.

The commission's action is based on a state regulation prohibiting discharge of air contaminants "in such concentration and of such duration" as to "be injurious to or to adversely affect human health or welfare."

"What we've alleged is called a nuisance violation," said John Sadlier, deputy director of the commission's Office of Compliance and Enforcement.

The commission, however, has not found any instances in which the Carrizo operation exceeded allowable emissions levels for pollutants, Sadlier said.

"I think we've been out to the site more than 25 times over the past two years," he said, as the agency has responded to "in excess of 40" complaints.

Carrizo spokesman Michael Grimes said Thursday that the company believes that the claims are "meritless" and that "we are going to defend ourselves very strenuously."

"To my knowledge," Grimes said, it is at least "unusual," and perhaps "unprecedented," for the commission "to initiate any kind of action when their own testing shows no instances of exceeding air emission levels."

He said Carrizo is "actively in discussions with the TCEQ regarding the enforcement action," which was initiated Oct. 5.

Sadlier said the commission will continue to talk to Carrizo and "attempt to settle this case."

"From the TCEQ perspective, it's an environmental issue," Sadlier said.

The agency therefore is interested, he said, in anything that Carrizo "can do to reduce emissions from that site."

Carrizo could face a fine of up to $10,000 for each day that it was found to be in violation of the state regulation, agency spokesman Terry Clawson said.

Complaints in Dish

On Wednesday evening in the small Denton County community of Dish, Tony Walker, regional director of the environmental commission, fielded questions from residents concerned about negative environmental and health effects from gas and oil drilling in the Barnett Shale.

Walker, based in Fort Worth, has jurisdiction over 19 counties in North Texas.

About 60 people attended the meeting, said Sharon Wilson of the Texas Oil and Gas Accountability Project, an affiliate of the Earthworks environmental organization.

Wilson said the commission has received hundreds of complaints this year about odors and health problems associated with gas drilling and production but has taken action in only a few cases.

Walker said Thursday that the commission has been "very responsive" to residents' complaints, promptly investigating them.

An investigation, however, can take two months, he said. Some investigations are ongoing, he said.

The bulk of complaints about Barnett Shale oil and gas operations are about odors, he said.

Walker said he believes that his regional office, which has slightly more than 100 employees, is sufficiently large to do the job.

Jack Z. Smith, 817-390-7724

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