Recently in Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Category

June 18, 2010

TCEQ Chairman Defends Barnett Shale Air Quality

Bryan Shaw, Chariman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, published a letter in the Fort Worth Star Telegram assuring Fort Worth that there was no immediate health risk from contamination of air caused by oil and gas activities in the region. Shaw assured residents that "the TCEQ can state, without hesitation, that benzene levels in Fort Worth pose no immediate health risk."

The TCEQ has taken extraordinary measures over the past several months to test air quality in and around Fort Worth after Al Amendariz, then an engineering professor at Southern Methodist University and now regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, published a report that air emissions from oil and gas activity in the Barnett Shale play were significantly contributing to reduced air quality in the DFW area. The concerns were exacerbated by reports from the town of DISH, in Denton County, that air emissions from oil and gas facilities were causing health problems in that community.

The TCEQ has also come under more general criticism and scrutiny by the EPA since Armendariz's appointment. The EPA has contended that the TCEQ's air-permitting program violates federal law, and the EPA has threatened to take over the program from the TCEQ. The Texas Attorney General has filed a legal challenge to the EPA's efforts to pre-empt the State's permitting program. The TCEQ and the EPA are in discussions to try to resolve the dispute.


May 19, 2010

Texas Report Shows No Evidence of Health Problems in Town of Dish

The Texas Department of State Health Services issued its report on results of blood and urine samples taken from 28 residents of the tiny town of Dish, in Denton County, Texas. The report concludes that there is no evidence from those tests that the residents have elevated levels of airborne toxins in their bodies. 

As has been widely reported, the Mayor of Dish has been complaining that oil and gas operations around the town have resulted in exposure to airborne contaminants and health problems among citizens in the town. The town commissioned an air quality survey by a company named Wolf Eagle Environmental, which reported in December 2009 that the town "continues to show high levels of atmospheric VOCs known to have both carcinogenic and neurotoxin capabilities in concentrations that exceed TCEQ ESLs. High atmospheric concentractions of Methane were confirmed at various locations in both the August 2009 and December 2009 Air Quality Studies performed by Wolf Eagle." The town also conducted a health survey of its citizens, and the survey results were analyzed by Wilma Subra, a Louisiana chemist, for Earthworks' Oil and Gas Accountability Project. Ms. Subra's report concluded that a significant number of residents reported health effects associated with toxics measured in excess of TCEQ screening levels, and it recommended that the Texas Department of State Health Services (TxDSHS) test the blood of community members.

TxDSHS reported that, although elevated levels of volatile organic compounds were found in some of the blood samples, "the pattern of VOC values was not consistent with a community-wide exposure to airborne contaminants, such as those that might be associated with natural gas drilling operations," and could have come from other sources such as cigarette smoking, metal cleaners, degreaser and lubricants. TxDSHS also tested water samples from residents' homes and found one home with an elevated level of a chemical derived from chlorine added to drinking water. The TxDSHS report cautioned that its investigation was limited to a one-time sampling event, that VOC's stay in the body for only a short time, so the tests could reflect only recent exposures and not historical exposures.

Mayor Tillman, interviewed by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, commented that he does not think the results of the tests should be taken to assume that drilling in the rest of the Barnett Shale is being conducted safely. "He is convinced that gas companies were severly polluting the air in Dish but cleaned up their act when they saw state regulators were starting to take an interest. "They've done something and I don't know what it is and I don't care,' Tillman said. 'All I care is the air is getting cleaner.'"

Gene Powell, Editor of the Powell Barnett Shale Newsletter, estimated that the tests conducted to investigate Mayor Tillman's complaints have cost the State $400,000, or $6,667 per resident. 

January 22, 2010

Dish Mayor Calvin Tilman Testifies at Railroad Commission

The Mayor of tiny Dish, Texas, north of Fort Worth, continues to stir up controversy with his claims of air pollution from oil and gas activities causing health concerns in his community. The mayor appeared at the RRC's January 12 open hearing. You can watch his testimony here (go to item 17 on the agenda). The mayor's appearance was prompted by an item placed on the agenda by Commissioner Michael Williams, which in turn had been prompted by a letter sent to the Commissioners by State Rep. Ron Burnam. Rep. Burnam's letter asked the RRC to place a moratorium on permits for wells in the Barnett Shale around Fort Worth until the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has finished its investigation of air quality in the area. In response, Commissioner Williams proposed that the Commissioners write a letter to the Texas Attorney General asking for a formal opinion whether the RRC has authority to issue such a moratorium. (Rep. Burnam has also asked the City of Fort Worth to issue a similar moratorium on well permits in the city limits.) I have written about the controversy concerning the town of Dish in a previous post.

Continue reading "Dish Mayor Calvin Tilman Testifies at Railroad Commission" »

December 31, 2009

Tiny Town of Dish, Texas Stirs Up Hornet's Nest Over Air Pollution in Barnett Shale

Dish is a town of about 200 residents north of Fort Worth, Texas. The mayor and town council have recently become concerned about emissions from gas compressors in and around the town, from the Barnett Shale gas development. Large compressor stations are located near Dish; these stations have big internal combustion engines that compress gas to move it through gas transmission lines in the area. The town hired an environmental firm, Wolf Eagle Environmental, to conduct air quality tests and has complained to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The small community has now become the focus of the larger debate over the impact of Barnett Shale wells on air quality in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and the impact of oil and gas drilling and production activity on the environment generally.


Continue reading "Tiny Town of Dish, Texas Stirs Up Hornet's Nest Over Air Pollution in Barnett Shale" »