Air & Water Quality
Clearing the air on the Barnett Shale
In the 29 years since the first well was drilled in the Barnett Shale, the natural gas industry has taken steps to ensure that it is a good neighbor.
Paramount among those efforts is to operate in a safe, clean and environmentally friendly manner.
It's not only an operational imperative -- since the industry is among the world's most heavily regulated -- it also demonstrates the commitment to develop a long-term relationship with communities throughout the region.
For these reasons, the North Texas region received positive news last week when we learned that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's air quality study found natural gas wells in the Barnett Shale have little to no impact on our regional air quality. Following a six-month investigation at 94 monitoring sites throughout the region, the commission's chief toxicologist stated the test results prove there is "no need for widespread alarm." It should be noted these results came on the heels of an equally exhaustive air quality study of 116 natural gas sites in Fort Worth which found no detectable levels of benzene.
While two sites in Wise County required immediate action, both were quickly corrected by the operators. Follow-up tests showed no emissions problems. Nineteen test results, many of which were clustered in a few rural locations, registered elevated levels that the TCEQ said "may require action by facility operators."
It is important to note that both sites that required immediate action were the result of temporary mechanical problems that were found and repaired by the operators during normal routine inspections. That is precisely why the industry has embraced the commission's "Find It and Fix It" program. The goal as an industry is zero violations, which signals the commitment to operate safely and responsibly -- and well within state regulations.
Equally important, however, is that unlike some inaccurate media headlines, this ongoing discussion be based upon facts and the commission's clear message that North Texas residents can continue to enjoy the benefits of Barnett Shale development without concern about our air quality.
As further proof, the ambient levels of airborne benzene in Fort Worth, the center of the Barnett Shale activity, have actually declined as more natural gas wells have been drilled. The commission's own independent air monitoring station at Meacham Airport shows ambient benzene levels have declined since 2005 and are slightly below the levels measured at their Dallas Hinton monitor, where there are no natural gas wells.
That is good news for North Texas. Development of the Barnett Shale is a source of many jobs and economic stimulus in the regional economy. In fact, the economic activity generated by Barnett Shale operations employs nearly 100,000 individuals -- that's more than American Airlines, Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopter combined -- and contributes billions of dollars annually to the local economy.
Of course, the positive regional economic benefits of the Barnett Shale do not mean our community's health concerns should be ignored. That is why we strongly encourage people to call the commission's hotline if they are concerned about potential noncompliance issues. People also are encouraged to reach out to the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council with any concerns or issues.
As residents learn more about benzene, it is also important to understand the many ways in which Americans come into contact with benzene every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, benzene is present in everyday household products like glues, detergents and furniture wax. Further, the common use of these products means that the average home actually has higher levels of benzene than you find outdoors, according to the CDC.
Across the region, the natural gas industry's employees are servicing more than 14,000 Barnett Shale natural gas wells. They are members of this community. They're in line at the carpool next to you and joining you for a jog on the Trinity Trails. It's because of them that we have had great success in growing the regional economy, and it's because of them and their commitment to their neighbors that the industry works diligently to improve its already safe operations every day.
First published in Star-Telegram, 2/2/2010
Ed Ireland is a resident of Tarrant County and executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council. firstname.lastname@example.org 817-338-3305