Fort Worth Air Quality Study Says: Go Ahead, Take a Deep Breath. For the Most Part.

The much-anticipated Fort Worth Natural Gas Air Quality Study, a major million-dollar undertaking to determine the air quality effects of natural gas drilling, was released toward day's end yesterday and indicates there's no need to get your gas masks out just yet -- for the most part. The study, conducted by Eastern Research Group Inc. (ERG), is a mammoth doc in need of full digesting. But, for now, here's the gist:

In general, air pollution levels were not determined to have reached levels causing adverse health effects. Even so, pollution of any level is not a welcome addition to a neighborhood, so the ERG recommended additional study to monitor the pollution levels to ensure they're within a range conducive to future productive human life.

Chris Klaus, a member of Fort Worth's Air Quality Study Committee, told Unfair Park at last night's Texas Commission on Environmental Quality hearing in Arlington that he has confidence in the methods used to assess the city's air quality. But he emphasized that this is a limited, short-term study that cannot assess the cumulative effects of drilling.

"It will help to identify where the problems are, how severe the problems are ... and what are the issues locally," said Klaus, who lives in a well-dotted area south of Fort Worth. But he reminds: Those living closest to the wells may still face more severe air-pollution problems because of drilling.

Results determined that "dozens of pollutants with varying toxicities," three-fourths of which came from well pads, were present in the city's air. Pollutants such as methane, propane and ethane, with relatively low toxicities, accounted for 98 percent of the estimated pollution. More toxic chemicals like benzene were present, but in significantly lower amounts.

While pollutants were not determined to be at high enough levels to cause adverse health effects, the results weren't 100-percent peachy. Based on emission rates calculated by ERG, the study says that "five sites -- a processing facility, three compressor stations, and one well pad -- had overall emission rates that exceed regulatory thresholds that are supposed to trigger certain permitting requirements."

The study also determined that malfunctioning equipment, such as tank hatches that were partially open or corroded, "likely caused increased emissions."

Also of note: For the majority of sites examined, Fort Worth's 600-foot setback distance was determined to be "adequate," although the "relatively few" sites with "multiple, large line compressor engines" had "estimated acrolein and formaldehyde concentrations greater than protective health-based screening levels published by the TCEQ [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality]."

The twice-delayed study's release comes two days after the first Dallas gas drilling task force meeting. And seeing as how set-back talk will be among the task force's topics of conversation, expect this information, and much of the study's determinations, to surface in future discussions at Dallas City Hall. We should call Sheffie and see what he thinks.

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Leslie Minora