Interim Report on Fort Worth Natural Gas Air Quality Study Leaves Biggest Questions Unanswered

Last week, the Fort Worth City Council received an interim report on its Natural Gas Air Quality Study initiated last August.  Unfortunately, this interim report was short on details about the most unique aspect of the project – the direct measurement of emissions at the point of release.

The interim report only presented high-level summaries of results of sampling at 66 sites out of 170 sites where emissions were detected in Phase I (no emissions were detected at another 31 sites).  Stated differently, the interim report provided no information about nearly two-thirds of the sites with detectable emissions.

Notably, the report identified two well sites where the measured emissions, if extrapolated to an entire year, would exceed the state’s limit under the “permit by rule” used by most gas producers.  These findings not only warrant rigorous investigation by regulatory agencies, but also detailed analysis of the effects on the health of surrounding neighbors. 

It was therefore disappointing to hear the City staffer that is managing the study dismiss these elevated emissions as “a permitting issue…not necessarily a health issue.”  While the final analysis may conclude that these emissions don’t pose a health threat to neighbors, there is no basis to downplay the significance before performing the necessary analyses.     

The other part of the first study phase consisted of ambient air monitoring.  The report’s executive summary emphasized that no pollutant concentrations exceeded short-term health benchmarks.  No mention was made of long-term health benchmarks.  Presentations on earlier monitoring campaigns by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality values considered the long-term Effects Screening Levels (ESL), so it was surprising that a similar approach was not used here. 

Using the long-term benchmark, two 24-hour samples at Site 4 (located north of downtown) contained benzene levels exceeding TCEQ’s long-term benchmark of 1.4 ppb (and a third was just barely under that value).  

While a final report on the entire project was originally due on March 25, the project timetable had to be extended late last year when the initial funding ran out before less than half of the targeted well sites had been sampled.  The bad news was that finishing the work would cost the city an additional $400,000 and the final report would be delayed until June 30.  The good news was that last week’s interim report with the results of the first phase of work would be provided.  Sadly, the interim report failed to deliver the details and raw data necessary for the Phase I results to be properly interpreted and analyzed.  As the Star-Telegram put it last week:  “Fort Worth must wait and wait.”

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