ARLINGTON -- Environmentalists and state officials are "grossly overstating" the amount of air pollution caused by the natural gas industry in Dallas-Fort Worth, an industry representative said at a public hearing Thursday on the state's plans to meet federal ozone requirements.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is proposing new rules that would require the oil and gas industry to install vapor-recovery systems, flares or other emission controls to reduce volatile organic compounds, which can create harmful ground-level ozone, from escaping their large storage tanks.
But Ed Ireland with the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council disputed the amount of VOC emissions that the state commission has calculated the oil and gas industry will generate next year. While the TCEQ estimates those industries will emit 114 tons of those chemicals each day, Barnett Shale drillers say their own study, which was requested by the state, shows that the region's 10,721 wells only emit 21 tons of VOCs per day.
"All the cars and trucks in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex emit six times more volatile organic compounds than all the Barnett Shale natural gas wells," Ireland said. "No further restrictions are needed."
David Brymer, TCEQ's air quality division director, said the state may have overestimated VOC emissions because voluntary changes made by the natural gas industry -- such as switching to pneumatic valves that allow no gas or less gas to leak from the pipes-- were not factored in. But the energy industry can do more to control one of its top sources of VOC emissions -- storage tanks holding crude oil, gasoline, condensate from natural gas wells or other chemicals, Brymer said.
TCEQ is still reviewing emissions data provided by the natural gas industry. Besides better controls on storage tank emissions, the state could also adopt federal guidelines restricting the commercial use and storage of certain chemicals, such as industrial cleaning solvents, appliance and metal furniture coatings, and adhesives. Those rules could affect manufactures such as General Motors, which might be required to switch to an automotive coating that contains a lower level of VOCs, Brymer said.
Some say proposals inadequate
Some speakers say the proposed measures don't go far enough.
Arlington resident Faith Chatham testified that one of her friends has experienced significant health problems, including hospitalization, since a natural gas well and compressor station opened near her home. Chatham said TCEQ isn't getting an accurate measure of pollution coming off natural gas well sites because she believes the companies are intentionally venting dangerous chemicals at night and during the weekends.
"Even though the oil and gas industry may swear they are doing such a great job, there are people in this area that are medically vulnerable ... you are killing us," Chatham said.
Some speakers at the public hearing opposed new environmental regulations, saying the additional expenses could cause workers to lose jobs or prevent property owners from profiting on their mineral rights. Vapor-recovery systems could cost between $100,000 and $150,000, Brymer said.
Economics and the environment
Resident Buddy Saunders said the development of fossil fuels in Texas is essential to the state's economic growth and to residents' health.
"Growing unemployment and a withering economy produce more health problems than are likely to occur because of fossil fuel development," Saunders said. "The question isn't should we aggressively pursue natural gas and other fossil fuels. Our only concern should be how best to do it while balancing that goal against reasonable health and environmental concerns and solutions."
Chatham said the industry should invest more money on new technology that will better protect the environment and residents' health.
"If we have a sour environment, we aren't going to have jobs, they aren't going to buy our homes," Chatham said.
The state's plan to demonstrate what it is doing to meet the Federal Environmental Agency's eight-hour ozone standards, which were created in 1997, is due in January. TCEQ is not proposing any new regulations for cars, trucks or other off-road mobile equipment, such as construction and gravel pit machinery. State officials say those sources will generate less VOC emissions over time as drivers and companies switch to newer vehicles and machinery that pollute less because of previously implemented federal standards.
Vehicle and machinery VOC emissions, for example, are expected to decrease from 165 tons per day in 2006 to 123 tons per day in 2012.
The TCEQ will be taking public comment on the proposed changes through Aug. 8.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639