PANTEGO -- Neighbors Harriet Irby and Betty Clark hope they can breathe easier after drawing the state's attention to a natural gas compressor station they say is releasing toxic air pollution near their Pantego homes.
Irby, who said she suffers from lung disease, blames diesel exhaust and sweet-smelling chemical fumes from the DFW Midstream Service facility for exacerbating her breathing problems and causing her to rack up costly medical bills.
Clark said she now avoids taking Pioneer Parkway past the compressor station in Dalworthington Gardens after driving through a cloud of fumes so strong last month that it burned her eyes and sent her into a coughing fit.
"It was making me sick. That area just stinks most of the time," said Clark, who said she isn't the only person to notice the bad smell near the compressor station. "It just takes my breath away when I drive through there."
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The women aren't the only ones reporting health concerns.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has investigated seven complaints about emissions from the natural gas compressor station at 3018 W. Pioneer Parkway since June.
No violations were found during a June 2 visit, but commission inspectors found an open valve venting natural gas and detected other volatile organic compound emissions from storage tanks, vents and other units during Aug. 18 and Aug. 22 inspections, agency spokesman Terry Clawson said.
One inspector briefly became ill after reporting strong natural gas odors downwind of the facility on the Aug. 18 visit, Clawson said.
On Wednesday, the state agency learned that volatile organic compounds in air samples taken from the site last month were far below air monitoring comparison values likely to cause adverse health effects.
However, the agency is still conducting its compliance investigation and has not determined whether any violations occurred.
Officials with Summit Midstream, which owns DFW Midstream, were not available for an interview but e-mailed a statement to the Star-Telegram this week saying the company was working to address complaints.
"In June, we participated in a community meeting with residents in Dalworthington Gardens to address concerns and answer questions about our operations in the neighborhood. We take all resident complaints seriously and continuously strive to improve our operations and our responsibilities to the community in which we operate," the statement said.
Summit Midstream officials would not comment on specific equipment or improvements being considered to address residents' concerns, but Irby and Clark are pushing for the company to install a vapor-recovery system to reduce emissions that they say are making them ill.
"I don't want to whiff glycol," Irby said of the sweet-smelling chemical used to remove water from the natural gas stream. "I want a vapor-recovery system ASAP. I don't want it done within a year. I'll be back in the hospital. It needs to be done now."
To help meet federal ozone requirements, the agency is proposing 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 from their large storage tanks.
Both women contacted the agency Aug. 18 to report itchy, watery eyes, shortness of breath and other health problems they said they experienced after driving past the compressor station. The women also believe that some of their chickens have died because of exposure to the foul-smelling fumes.
After the women complained about the odors again Aug. 22, an agency investigator confirmed moderate, continuous glycol odors at the entrance of the facility. The investigator detected emissions from two storage tanks, which ceased after company personnel adjusted a pressure relief valve that had been set too low, Clawson said.
The agency monitors about 16,000 oil and gas facilities of various types in the Barnett Shale. About 200 have been the subject of complaints, Clawson said. The number of complaints at the DFW Midstream compressor station in Dalworthington Gardens is not above average, and most of them have come from two people, he said.
Clark, who also suffers from lung disease, said she'll keep calling the state and the Environmental Protection Agency until something is done to reduce the emissions.
"If the pollution is hurting me, it's hurting other people," Clark said. "If it's not contained, its going to keep hurting other people."