According to a recent news report, the head toxicologist for the Texas Commisssion on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is "shocked" at the high levels of benzene being detected in the Barnett Shale area. What may be even more shocking in this report: not one of the ten biggest natural gas producers in the Barnett Shale denied that benzene is an issue in the Barnett.
TCEQ is now asking natural gas producers to monitor benzene emissions and and report any leaks. The agency is also asking producers to voluntarily reduce benzene emissions and is considering a new rule to require such reductions.
While this may sound like a good first step, TCEQ should be requiring protection, and not only from benzene, but from the other hazardous air pollutants emitted by natural gas production activities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified 188 air pollutants that "may reasonably be anticipated to result in an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible or incapacitating reversible illness." The Clean Air Act established limits for these hazardous air pollutants, known as HAPs, but there is a gaping loophole for certain oil and gas production operations, as detailed in the NRDC report Drilling Down. It is time for Congress to close this loophole in the Clean Air Act and to hold the oil and gas industry to the same standards as other industries.