Selected category: Barnett Shale

Texas Takes Backseat Controlling Its Massive Methane Problem

3829465133_78b173bff0_bA new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, finds that methane emissions from oil and gas facilities in North Texas’ Barnett Shale are likely as much as 90 percent higher than previous estimates based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

This is no small matter. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas rapidly accelerating the rate of climate change. But it’s also emitted with other harmful pollutants, like Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that contribute to smog levels, as well as the cancer causing compound benzene. One study estimates that oil and gas production in the Barnett Shale Region in Texas contributes 19,888 tons of VOCs per year while estimates for the Eagle Ford Shale region just south of San Antonio project oil and gas operations could produce up to 1,248 tons per day VOC by 2018. Both the DFW area and San Antonio are struggling with high smog levels.

And based on the findings of the new methane study, we now know that there are instances where the magnitude of oil and gas emissions is even higher than previously thought. That is especially troubling for the more than 6 million people living in the DFW area who are at risk of developing or exacerbating respiratory and other health problems as a result of this unnecessary air pollution. Unnecessary because recent analysis concludes that emissions can be drastically reduced by implementing cost-effective and “off the shelf” pollution reduction technologies and practices – begging the question: why has Texas, the leading oil and gas producing state, not been a leader on reducing this harmful pollution?

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Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Car Standards, Methane, Natural gas, Ozone, TCEQ| Read 1 Response

Oil & Gas Industry Mangles More Facts, Turns EDF Study Results Upside Down

By: Mark Brownstein, Vice President, US Climate and Energy

Barnett graphic high res

Click to enlarge.

Here we go again.

A new set of peer-reviewed scientific papers pointing to 50 percent higher than estimated regional methane emissions from oil and gas operations in Texas were published this week. And like clockwork, the oil and gas industry’s public relations machine, Energy In Depth, proclaimed that rising emissions are actually falling, and that the industry’s meager voluntary efforts are responsible.

This is, of course, wrong on both counts. In fact, it’s a willful misrepresentation of the findings.

First, the assertion that emissions are going down is flat wrong. EPA’s latest inventory released in April reports that in 2013 the oil and gas industry released more than 7.3 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere from their operations—a three percent increase over 2012—making it the largest industrial source of methane pollution. So much for those voluntary efforts. Read More »

Also posted in Flare emissions, Natural gas| Comments are closed

A New Study Points to the Need for Improved Air Monitoring in Texas

Source: Dallas Observer

Source: Dallas Observer

A new study accepted for publication in Environmental Science & Technology takes a close look at the amount of certain air pollutants in the Barnett Shale, a booming oil and gas region in North Texas. Using public monitoring data from 2010-2011, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin compared air pollution levels measured at a monitor surrounded by oil and gas operations to the levels that would be expected based on available emission estimates. The result brings to light that the emissions inventory from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for the Barnett Shale does not add up to the observations.

There are numerous air pollutants that can be emitted by oil and natural gas development.  Depending on the local composition of the produced gas, emissions can often include volatile organic compounds (VOC, such as propane, butane, pentane, etc.) that contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone (also known as smog), and toxic air pollutants like benzene and hexane that are directly hazardous to human health.  Methane, the primary ingredient in natural gas and a greenhouse gas catching lots of attention these days, is another powerful pollutant associated with these operations. Unlike the pollutants listed above, methane directly affects the health of our climate rather than human health. Fortunately, available technologies designed to capture methane are also effective in reducing these other pollutants. However, methane controls alone may not ensure that local air quality concerns are addressed – these require special attention.  Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Dallas Fort-Worth, GHGs, Natural gas, Oil, Ozone, TCEQ| Comments are closed

Microsensing: Air Pollution Measurements In The Palm Of Your Hand

The science behind air pollution in urban areas is clear: smog has been linked to premature deaths, increased asthma attacks and breathing problems, and increased hospital visits.  But most of us have no way of knowing about the pollutants that we’re exposed to on a daily basis. Expressways, waste facilities, and dry cleaners create highly-localized pollution that may not be detected by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regional air monitoring data.  Larger-scale air monitoring isn't designed to capture these types of traditional pollution sources, nor does it record local effects of unconventional emissions sources associated with  oil and gas development.  We have no real way to know when our local air pollution hits dangerous levels, and no way to avoid hazardous air in our communities.  Both Houston and Dallas rank among the most polluted cities in the United States, according to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2013.  With well over 12 million Texans living in the Dallas/Houston metro areas, it’s crucial that concerned citizens have access to the right tools to monitor air pollution and take preventative measures when pollutants reach dangerous levels.

Michael Heimbinder, a Brooklyn entrepreneur, hopes to empower individuals with his small-scale air quality monitoring system, AirCasting.  The AirCasting system uses a mobile, Bluetooth-enabled air monitor not much larger than a smartphone to measure carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and other pollutants.  An accompanying Android app records and formats the information to an emissions map.  Alternatively, another instrument, The Air Quality Egg, comes pre-assembled ready to use.  Innovative air monitoring systems, like AirCasting or The Air Quality Egg, empower ordinary citizens to monitor the pollution they encounter daily and proactively address problematic sources of pollution.

This technology is part of a growing movement to enable the use of small sensors. In response to inquiries about small-sensor data, the EPA is researching the next generation of air measuring technologiesEPA experts are working with sensor developers to evaluate data quality and understand useful sensor applications.  Through this ongoing collaboration, the EPA hopes to bolster measurements from conventional, stationary air-monitoring systems with data collected from individuals’ air quality microsensors. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency| Tagged | Comments are closed

Loose Use Of Facts Undermines Credibility Of White’s OpEd

An erroneous and misleading opinion piece by Kathleen Hartnett White with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, ran in Sunday's The Austin American-Statesman. In the article, White misrepresents several important details from a 4-year old EDF report that was prepared by Dr. Al Armendariz, a former Regional Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The report catalogued emissions from oil and gas production in the Barnett Shale area. Her purported facts about the study findings are just plain wrong.

First, she claims that the report concluded that ozone precursor emissions from Barnett Shale production are twice as large as all mobile source emissions in the area. In fact, the report concluded that peak Barnett Shale emissions, while significant, were roughly comparable to emissions from cars and trucks (see press release accompanying the report).

White then claims that Dr. Armendariz’s study considered methane to be an ozone precursor, contrary to what is clearly stated in the report at p. 8. While it is true that methane does form ozone, albeit slowly, the report states "[m]ethane and ethane are specifically excluded from the definition of VOC” (volatile organic compounds). Thus, the report excluded methane from the comparison to mobile emissions of ozone precursors.

It is unclear if the author even read Dr. Armendariz's work, which was not computer modeling, as she claims. Rather, it was an emissions “inventory,” a catalog of the air pollutant emissions from oil/gas sources in the Barnett Shale area, constructed using established engineering practices and industry-backed data sources. The core pieces of information for the inventory were oil/gas production data that are available for every county in Texas from databases at the Texas Railroad Commission. Dr. Armendariz’s resulting emissions estimates were in reasonable agreement with estimates issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality later in 2009 (10-20% difference).

You can’t make a strong case when you get facts wrong. And, it is irresponsible for White to make her case by manipulating science, while cynically blaming government bodies of committing the same sin.

It’s time we all get the facts right and use science to expose truths, not veil our own agenda. For our part, EDF is working with leading academic researchers and industry leaders to conduct scientifically rigorous measurements of emissions from natural gas production. Leaks that occur during production (as well as distribution and use) stand to significantly undermine the potential of natural gas as a lower carbon energy source.

Also posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, Natural gas, Ozone, TCEQ| Tagged , | Comments are closed

Natural Gas: A Question Of Sustainability

Today there are around 45,000 shale gas wells operating in the United States – triple the number in 2005 – and as a result, people are rightfully concerned about the extent of the shale boom’s potential damage to the environment.

The issue became the focal point of discussion this month in “Can Natural Gas Be Sustainable?,” a five-person panel presentation at the second annual SXSW Eco conference in Austin. As part of the panel, we discussed how stronger standards and employing best practices could minimize impacts of increased natural gas production in the wake of growing public concern about the health and environmental impacts of drilling.

Attendees of SXSW Eco represented a broad swath of perspectives, ranging from those who were against any natural gas development to those who wanted to see much more natural gas development. One attendee even criticized the title of the panel, presenting the position that developing any non-renewable resource is inherently not sustainable.

As for the sustainability question, one thing is clear: the natural gas industry has a lot of opportunity for improvement, and there is mounting public pressure to address environmental concerns. Nearly 61 percent of Americans have negative views about the oil and gas industry – higher than any other industry (David Blackmon, from FTI Consulting, actually joked that this was an improvement!)

As part of the discussion, I spoke about the many environmental and health impacts associated with natural gas development. Construction and drilling equipment can degrade local air quality with smog-forming pollutants and air toxics (Example: activities at the Barnett Shale in Texas).  I also spoke about the implications of faulty well construction as one of the major causes of natural gas leakage, and emphasized that while natural gas is touted as a low-carbon fuel source, leaks from the production, distribution, and use of natural gas could undermine the greenhouse gas advantage combusted natural gas has over coal.

EDF is working hard to address the key problem areas associated with natural gas development: exposure to toxic chemicals and waste products; faulty well construction and design; climate impacts from methane leakage; local and regional air pollution; and land use and community impacts. Our team is engaging with community, government and industry stakeholders to help identify ways to minimize both human health and environmental risk, including:

  • Comprehensive disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals
  • Modernization of rules for well construction and operation
  • Systems-based management of wastes and water
  • State and national standards for improving air quality and reducing climate impacts
  • Minimization of land use and community impacts from natural gas development

Fellow SXSW Panelists

Other speakers presented varying perspectives on natural gas issues. Chris Helman, Associate Editor of Forbes magazine, moderated the panel and emphasized the public interest on the topic, as well as the contribution of natural gas to the country’s energy portfolio.

George Peridas, a scientist from NRDC, prefaced his comments by saying, “We have a lot of work to do before we can call natural gas clean.” Peridas gave examples of numerous exemptions given the natural gas industry under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. As well, those tasked with enforcing the state natural gas regulations that currently exist lack the ability to go out, fully inspect and enforce those standards. The result, he said, was that “industry is a self-policing entity right now.”

Much of his policy work focuses on climate change and correspondingly, Peridas said that natural gas could help with climate change and air quality when compared to coal. “The key is that gas needs to displace dirtier fuels,” he said. “A bridge is not the right frame of mind, and we cannot afford to treat gas as an abundant resource. We need to address its impacts now.”

Some of the solutions Peridas proposed included: designation of “off-limits” areas that provide fresh water resources or wildlife/conservation value; stopping those leaks that waste methane and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions; development of a comprehensive guide for how to drill safely (e.g., proper cement jobs at well sites); repealing the outrageous exemptions at the federal level that industry currently enjoys; focusing on measures and policies that promote solutions (e.g., solar energy); and ensuring that communities have a say in whether drilling proceeds in their areas.

Sister Elizabeth Riebschlaeger, a nun with Congregation Of The Sisters Of Charity Of The Incarnate Word, and community advocate for the Eagle Ford Shale, agreed strongly with co-panelist George Peridas and his push for more local regulations. She told the story of citizens in small, rural Texas towns being strongly impacted by the Eagle Ford shale, and even used the phrase “merciless exploitation” to describe her own such experience.

Sister Elizabeth asked the rhetorical question: “Are we counting our natural gas clean energy chickens before they hatch?” She then emphasized that society must consider all of the activities required to produce natural gas, including activities she has observed in the Eagle Ford Shale: trucks and heavy equipment; travel trailers for workers; transporting of sand and chemicals, fracking equipment, and toxic waste (produced during operations); construction of huge batteries and tanks; rigs operating 24 hours a day; loud compressor stations; damage to land requiring clean up; and more.

David Blackmon, managing director at FTI Consulting, represented industry’s point of view, which touts the “reality that over half of our electricity generating capacity is natural gas.” The demand for natural gas includes backing up intermittent supply from solar and wind power. He said that natural gas was one of the only power sources that could be “cycled up” in a matter of minutes and that coal made this process more expensive.

Blackmon said that the key to making natural gas sustainable was ensuring public trust; trust that it is being appropriately regulated at federal, state and local levels. “I absolutely agree that there are not enough inspectors in the Texas Railroad Commission to regulate it,” he said. “The good news is that most companies in the industry recognize the need for public trust and are working towards that.”

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Natural gas| Read 2 Responses
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