Air & Water Quality
Benzene issues in the Barnett Shale
Recently, questions have arisen about air emissions related to Barnett Shale natural gas wells. A private landowner in Westworth Village near Fort Worth, referred to as Deborah's Farmstead, commissioned an air emissions study from Wolf Eagle Environmental Engineers and Consultants. Dish, Texas, a small town north of Dallas, also commissioned a study from Wolf Eagle.
Both studies reported elevated levels of various organic compounds and, in some cases, benzene, and attributed the source to natural gas wells. The City of Fort Worth then commissioned a certified environmental engineering firm to review the goat farm study, and found that the methodology employed by Wolf Eagle was not scientifically sound.
Meanwhile, state officials have said preliminary tests show no evidence that drilling is releasing hazardous chemicals in Fort Worth. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) did three days of sampling at 126 well sites in the city last month; read more about it in the Star-Telegram and the Wall Street Journal.
The most likely source of benzene at natural gas well sights is condensate storage tanks, but of the counties in the EPA's nine-county non-attainment area, only two, Denton and Parker, have any significant production of condensate. The town of Dish is in Denton County.
As for the goat farm in Tarrant County, none of the 48 natural gas wells in the surrounding 64-square mile area produce any condensate, according to Sept. 09 data from the Railroad Commission of Texas. Furthermore, the wells that produce condensate are north and west of the goat farm, but the prevailing winds blow from south to north. If there are elevated levels of benzene at the goat farm, they must be from another source.
The point here is that not all Barnett Shale wells are the same, and regulatory policies must take these differences into consideration. It makes no sense to call for a moratorium on all new drilling permits in the Barnett Shale or to require vapor recovery systems on all wells. Finally; there is no "us" and "them" in this issue. All companies that work in the Barnett Shale also live in the Barnett Shale. If there are problems that need to be fixed, they will be fixed.
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