Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled a proposal to update our national air quality standards for ground-level ozone, more commonly known as smog, from the current 75 parts per billion level to 65 to 70 parts per billion. Smog is a dangerous air pollutant linked to asthma attacks and other serious heart and lung diseases. That’s why EPA is also seeking comments on establishing a health standard of 60 parts per billion, a level that would provide the strongest public health protections for Americans according to scientific record. But despite the overwhelming scientific evidence of the health benefits of a more protective ozone standard, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), publicly opposes it.
Sixty to 70 parts per billion is the health-based range recommended by the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, an independent panel of the nation’s leading scientists. The panel of scientists formed its recommendation based on an examination of bedrock scientific evidence and the requirement under the law to protect those most vulnerable.
In deconstructing TCEQ’s position on ozone, one can focus on a few key elements that stray from the mainstay of accepted public health principles:
Flaring in Eagle Ford Shale
The Texas Tribune recently published a piece debunking some of the science behind the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) position on the national health standard for ozone – one of the most ubiquitous and harmful air pollutants on the planet. As outlined in the agency’s latest newsletter, TCEQ’s Director of Toxicology, Mike Honeycutt, questions the benefits of a stronger standard, even though public health experts across the country have been calling for a more protective standard for years. What’s more disappointing than the agency’s apparent anti-health position, however, is the lack of attention to other legitimate air pollution issues in Texas.
It would seem that the agency must have a surplus of staff, as well as unlimited resources to establish such an aggressive position on a standard that hasn’t been proposed yet. The reality is that there are so many more important things that the agency could and should be doing to serve and protect Texas citizens from real air pollution threats, including: Read More
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