This post was co-authored by Adrian Shelley, Air Alliance Houston Executive Director.
Estimated Distribution of Benzene Annual Concentration, Based on Retrieved Primary Source Location and Wind Direction Frequency
One year ago this week, EDF, along with Air Alliance Houston (AAH), submitted comments to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regarding its proposal to remove Texas City from the state’s Air Pollutant Watch List (APWL). We believe the agency’s proposal to remove Texas City from the Watch List for benzene and hydrogen sulfide, two lethal air pollutants, was premature.
To date, the TCEQ has not addressed our public comments on the Texas City proposal, though it has found time to analyze and recommend two other areas for removal from the APWL. We believe that this reflects TCEQ’s misplaced priorities. The agency seems to prefer removing areas from the APWL — thereby lifting a burden on industry— rather than ensuring adequate protection for public health. Read More
Well site located in Eagle Ford Shale play
Late last week, the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) released a report outlining emission projections from oil and gas activity in the Eagle Ford Shale play, the most active drilling area in the country right now. Under the moderate drilling activity scenario, projections of air pollutants are expected to quadruple in the next four years. Even though this seems like a staggering prediction, it is likely an underestimation, given certain emissions are not accounted for in the inventory.
What does the report say?
The report assesses the emissions from oil and gas activity in the Eagle Ford Shale play and projects air pollution under three different development scenarios: low, moderate, and aggressive. Projections over the next several years indicate that we can expect substantial increases in smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and carbon monoxide. Read More
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
Last Wednesday, I traveled to Washington D.C. to testify at a House Science, Space, and Technology hearing entitled Examining the Science of EPA Overreach: A Case Study in Texas. It was my first time testifying on Capitol Hill and I was grateful for the opportunity to connect with some of our Texas lawmakers on issues concerning the relationship between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Texas.
One item of discussion focused on the greenhouse gas permitting authority in the state and the fact that Texas’ legal actions have thwarted industrial facilities in the state from conducting business. A recent article in the Texas Tribune, titled “Anti-Regulation Politics May Have Hurt Energy Industry,” highlights the burden that a dual permitting process places on businesses seeking greenhouse gas permits.
The process, which requires industrial facilities, such as power plants and refineries, to apply to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for criteria air pollutants permits and separately to EPA for greenhouse gas permits, has proved onerous for industry. In the article, the Texas Pipeline Association says, “more than 50 planned projects since early 2011 have been significantly delayed by the [Texas] permitting process, putting 48,000 jobs at risk.” Read More
Para un breve resumen de la crítica de Texas contra CSAPR en español, haga clic aquí.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard arguments over two critically important clean air protections – the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Standards for Mercury and Air Toxics. Texas has fought tooth and nail against both of these major pollution protections – protections that together have been estimated to prevent up to 45,000 deaths, 19,700 heart attacks and 530,000 asthma attacks.
Why are These Rules Important to Texas?
Air pollution from Texas' coal plants is, like many things in Texas, giant sized. Texas power plants collectively are the nation’s largest emitter of nitrogen oxides (NOx), and the second largest emitter of sulfur dioxide (SO2). Both pollutants are components of smog and are harmful to human health.
The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSPAR), which applies to the eastern U.S, is of particular interest to Texas, not only because it helps control emissions within the state, but also because it helps protect the state from air pollution blowing in from neighboring states. CSAPR provides for upwind states to be good neighbors and protect downwind communities from harmful particulate matter and smog-forming pollution discharged from power plant smokestacks. Read More
This blog post was co-written by Adrian Shelley, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston.
Source: National Geographic
Last week, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) held its only public hearing regarding the agency’s proposed plan to take over greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting authority from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Neither the TCEQ commissioners nor the executive director attended the hearing.
TCEQ’s move to issue GHG permits is quite a departure from the extensive actions the Texas government has taken NOT to regulate greenhouse gases in the state. In fact, in a letter dated August 2, 2010 to then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw used aggressive and robust language, declaring that:
“On behalf of the State of Texas, we write to inform you that Texas has neither the authority nor the intention of interpreting, ignoring, or amending its laws in order to compel the permitting of greenhouse gas emissions.” Read More
This post originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.
As we’ve highlighted in previous posts, water and energy regulators often make decisions in silos, despite the inherent connection between these two sectors. Texas is no exception.
Two very important and intertwined events are happening in Texas right now.
First, the state is in the midst of an energy crunch brought on by a dysfunctional electricity market, drought, population growth and extreme summer temperatures. An energy crunch signifies that the available supply of power barely exceeds the projected need (or demand) for electricity. Texas’ insufficient power supply makes the whole electricity system vulnerable to extreme weather events. An especially hot day (with thousands of air conditioning units running at full blast) could push the state over the edge and force the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the institution charged with ensuring grid reliability, to issue rolling blackouts.
Second, Texas is still in the midst of a severe, multi-year drought, forcing state agencies to impose strict water restrictions throughout the state. The drought has already had a devastating impact on surface water and many communities are facing critical water shortages.
Although Texas has always had to deal with extreme weather events, we can anticipate even more intense weather as climate change advances. The new climate ‘normal’ makes extreme heat waves, like the historic 2011 Texas summer, 20 times more likely to occur. These extreme weather events heighten the urgency of the energy-water nexus. Read More
Also posted in Climate Change, Demand Response, Drought, Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, Environment, ERCOT, Extreme Weather, Renewable Energy, Texas Energy Crunch, Utilities Tagged ERCOT, TWDB
Estimated Distribution of Benzene Annual Concentration, Based on Retrieved Primary Source Location and Wind Direction Frequency
Last week, EDF, along with Air Alliance Houston (AAH), submitted comments to the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) reflecting why we believe the proposed removal of Texas City for the pollutants benzene and hydrogen sulfide from the state’s Air Pollution Watch List (APWL) is premature.
The APWL is a list of areas in Texas where concentrations of harmful pollutants exceed the state’s own health-based screening level guidelines. While inclusion on the list indicates that additional scrutiny is given to permits issued to facilities in the area, some of the APWL areas have been listed for over a decade. This is significant because exposure to these toxics may impact human health and may lead to serious health outcomes, such as birth defects or cancer.
EDF has been actively engaged with TCEQ to improve management of the APWL program and to renew efforts to improve air quality in hotspot areas. TCEQ first added Texas City to the Air Pollutant Watch List in 2001 because of elevated concentrations of propionaldehyde. The organization added benzene in 2003 because the annual average concentration at the Ball Park Monitor exceeded the long-term health-based Air Monitoring Comparison Value (AMCV) of 1.0 ppb. Hydrogen sulfide was then added in 2004 based on mobile and stationary monitoring data showing exceedances of the 0.08 parts per million (ppm) threshold.
TCEQ’s proposal claims that recent air monitoring information justifies the removal of Texas City from the APWL. However, new analyses completed by EDF and AAH, indicate that data from the current monitoring network are not adequate in justifying the removal of Texas City from the APWL. Here are a few reasons why:
- Air monitoring information has not been correlated with wind direction, meaning that the existing monitoring network does not capture the predominant downwind concentrations of pollutants in neighborhoods closest to the largest sources. As illustrated in the insert, the largest concentration of benzene is expected in between the existing monitors.
- BP Texas City: The largest emitter in the area is also the worst environmental performer. BP Texas City is ranked as the largest benzene emitter in the region, not just the state. On March 23, 2005, an explosion killed 15 employees and injured 170 as a result of workers re-starting a unit at the BP refinery that had been closed for repairs. The problem started when workers filled a tank with 138 feet of flammable liquid, when it should have been filled with only 6.5 feet of liquid. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that BP had cut costs, resulting in risky working conditions, which were likely the cause of the catastrophic event. An investigation by the Chemical Safety Board found numerous problems, including out-of-date equipment, corroded pipes, and faulty safety alarms. This explosion has been characterized as one of the worst workplace incident in the U.S. between 1989 and 2005.
- BP Texas City II: More recently in November 2011, there were reports of gas leaks at the BP Texas City refinery. A concerned citizen initially reported a sulfur dioxide leak to the National Response Center. BP confirmed an ongoing leak of methyl mercaptan; the odor was so toxic that 30 workers from a neighboring plant downwind were taken to the hospital.
Also posted in Air Pollution
Over the last week, media outlets around the country have highlighted lack of regulation and enforcement as contributing to the tragedy in West, where 15 people lost their lives, many of them first responders.
State officials have commented many times that there is adequate state oversight under the existing laws. And yesterday, eight state agencies testified about the tragedy at a special hearing held by the Texas House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety. As you might imagine, the overall tone of the speakers was defensive, and ultimately, none of the state agencies testified that they would have done anything differently because they were all doing their jobs.
What about the laws of common sense?
The attitudes presented yesterday are frustrating and disappointing for communities. Texas is a great state and we can do better. We can start by taking a critical look at some of the bills working their way through the legislature right now designed to weaken public health protections. Consider the following bills that are in various stages of the legislative process:
- House Bill (HB) 824 (Calligari) – Spill Reporting
HB 824 aims to create a volume-based exemption for reporting accidental spills and discharges from wastewater facilities. Unfortunately, this one cleared the House Natural Resource Committee and is on its way to House Calendars.
- Senate Bill (SB) 957 (Fraser) and HB 2082 (Ritter) – Contested Case Hearings
These two bills would dramatically alter the way the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) handles certain permits and the judicial and administrative review process. The bills would shift the burden of proof on permits to the public, limit public input, and restrict evidentiary hearings.
- HB 1496 (Van Taylor) – Hydraulic Fracturing
HB 1496 would restrict a municipality’s ability to impose restrictions on hydraulic fracturing to protect public safety by adding any interest in an oil or natural gas well to the definition of private real property.
More information on current bills under consideration can be found here.
At the hearing, Progress Texas PAC Director Glenn Smith made comments that should make us all take notice:
Even this preliminary inquiry shows how dangerously wrong Rick Perry was when he said we had adequate regulations. State Chemists says security requirements are fence and door locks. The insurance commissioner says there is no requirement that the plant be insured, and that West Fertilizer's insurance was woefully inadequate to the risk. The TCEQ testified that the plant operated without a permit from 2004 to 2006, and that was only caught because someone filed an odor complaint in 2006.” Read More
Also posted in Legislation
There’s been a lot of debate following the West tragedy as to whether a lack of safety protections, lack of coordination and oversight among enforcement agencies, or some combination of both contributed to a system wide failure and 14 deaths with hundreds injured. As we have mentioned before, Texas leads the nation in total fatal occupational injuries, with more than 400 deaths in 2011. And while not every accident can be prevented, it does seem that Texas gets more than its fair share.
In recent reports, some state officials have indicated that the state’s level of oversight for facilities like the one in West is adequate. It is difficult to understand how one could make such bold statements when the cause of the explosion has yet to be determined. Furthermore, some legislators have recommended this legislative session that state environmental laws be weakened. This is in addition to recent budget cuts at the state environmental agency; the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) budget was recently cut by $305 million, which reduced the agency by 235 full-time employees. Perhaps what some of our officials really mean is that it is not a lack of oversight, but rather a lack of due diligence in enforcing the laws already on the books, laws designed to protect citizens from events like this one.
The Governor of Texas was quoted recently claiming that the state upholds the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But frankly that is not quite true. Acting alone, Texas recently refused to abide by laws on permitting regulations for greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the state sent an aggressive letter to EPA stating that “On behalf of the state of Texas, we write to inform you that Texas has neither the authority nor the intention of interpreting, ignoring, or amending its laws in order to compel the permitting of greenhouse gas emissions.” EPA actually had to devise a federal implementation plan for greenhouse gas emissions, so that any new facilities built in the state of Texas could in fact work with a legal permit. Currently, facilities that need a greenhouse gas permit must apply to EPA rather than to TCEQ, even though it is Texas’ responsibility. Read More