New Study Shows Fracking is Bad For Dallas' Air Quality. Environmentalists Want City Hall to Take Note

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Update on Sept. 5: Industry groups naturally dispute Schermbeck's conclusions. A response from Steve Everly from Energy in Depth follows the original post.

Original postMuch of the fracking debate has focused on if and how carcinogens like benzene and hexane find their way into the air and water supplies. Less attention has been paid to the impact of gas drilling on ozone levels, which is significant. Just how significant is hinted at in a new study published in the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association by researcher Eduardo Olaguer of the Houston Advanced Research Center.

The paper looks exclusively at gas processing facilities in the Barnett Shale and finds that routine operations can increase ozone levels by three parts per billion for several miles downwind, with the figure sometimes reaching 10 ppb. That not only significantly increases smog but also makes it more difficult for the region to get out of the EPA's doghouse. Already, nine DFW counties fail to meet the federal ozone standard of 85 ppb.

"(U)nless significant controls are placed on emissions from increased oil and gas exploration and production.... urban drilling and the associated growth in industry emissions may be sufficient to keep the area (DFW) in nonattainment," Olaguer writes.

Jim Schermbeck, who heads the environmental group Downwinders at Risk, said natural gas producers were exempted from the provision Clean Air Act governing ozone because operations were so dispersed. That's changed as the drilling boom has brought thousands of drill sites -- and the flares and industrial-sized compressors they bring with them -- close to urban areas. Now, Schermbeck says, they are a bigger contributor to Dallas' ozone levels than cement kilns, coal plants, and car emissions.

Schermbeck doesn't see any state or federal solution on the horizon, so he's placing his bets on the city of Dallas in hopes that the drilling ordinance they ultimately pass includes limits on the release of the volatile organic compounds that lead to ozone formation. The technology already exists to easily do so, but it hasn't been widely adopted because no one has mandated it.

"This study should be a wakeup call for all these officials in Dallas/FW who have sort of made a Faustian bargain with the drillers," he said.

Update: Everly's statement:

Opponents have tried numerous times to inflate air quality risks in the Barnett Shale with new 'research' that works backwards from a conclusion, but the public is smart enough to see through that. TCEQ has been examining real emissions levels in the Barnett Shale for years using actual air monitors (as opposed to modeling exercises with author-chosen inputs). Their tests have repeatedly shown there are 'no levels of concern for any chemicals,' and there are 'no immediate health concerns from air quality in the area' due to oil and gas operations. That may not make for a great fundraising email, but it does reflect the facts, which should be the basis for policymakers at City Hall.

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