image description

Hydraulic Fracking Raises Air Pollution Concerns in Texas

August 23rd, 2012

According to recent reports, state environmental regulators are using helicopters equipped with advanced lenses to monitor gas and oil well sites across the country. Environmental regulators say they are looking for toxic vapor leaks that would otherwise be invisible. Sources say the leaks are from open hatches or bad valves on tanks and pipes. However, the results of the state regulators is only adding fuel to the debate of whether fracking threatens to pollute the air in Texas towns where drilling is on the rise. According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the organization is being proactive in searching for potential problems.

The TCEQ is seeking to monitor the fear that the enormous increase in oil and gas well drilling, largely related to the technique called hydraulic fracturing or fracking, is releasing sizable amounts of gases. Among them, methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene. Further, the Environmental Protection Agency has implemented new rules for drilling issued this April in order to attempt to contain the emission of green house gases like methane which are produced by natural gas drilling.

“The oil and gas industry is a significant source of VOCs, which contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone (smog),” said the EPA in announcing new rules for drilling issued this April. The agency blames oil and gas production and processing for nearly 40% of all U.S. methane emissions. According to the EPA, flowback is a particular concern as this process involves a mix of natural gas and VOCs coming to the surface at high velocity and volume for three to 10 days.

According to reports, the city of San Antonio, Texas is particularly concerned because it sits down wind of Karnes County, which has recently become the state’s number one producer of crude oil. The Texas Railroad Commission provides information which shows that the area leads the state in new drilling permits and completed wells. However, pollution concerns do not simply stop at the wells, officials say a more immediate concern is all the exhaust from the diesel engines in the thousands of trucks, generators and compressors used to service the well sites.

The San Antonio region is the largest city in the United States that is in full compliance with all air quality laws, however officials believe they are on the cusp of violating the ozone standard. The industry has responded, the Eagle Ford Task Force is to work with drilling companies to target pollution sources, including an upshot in the number of flares used to burn off natural gas.

Reportedly, pollution concerns are also treated differently depending on what part of Texas the drilling is being conducted. Unlike in South Texas where much of the drilling is taking place in open ranges where the nearest home can be miles away, drilling in more densely-populated North Texas gets treated like a neighborhood nuisance, with city councils passing extensive ordinances requiring buffer zones between well sites and homes. Fort Worth mandates that drilling companies take steps to reduce air emissions

Reportedly, the drilling industry largely disputes any threat to health from the vapors the fracking unleashes. And so do Texas regulators. Industry regulators have said that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the fracking process in terms of toxic emissions. Instead, most leaks were caused by workers not following procedures, for example, leaving a hatch door open on a tank.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.