More concrete evidence on hazardous air pollution generated in communities by oil and gas production

DISH, Texas* is a small town of less than 200 residents in north Texas. Drilling for natural gas in the Barnett Shale area is taking place all around DISH. Although DISH is less than two square miles and primarily a residential area, it is home to 11 natural gas compressor stations, three metering stations, miles of pipeline, and countless pieces of associate equipment. Compressor stations compress natural gas so it can continue along the pipeline; metering stations measure the flow of gas.

Property values have gone down in DISH; properties for sale remain unsold; roads are impassible. But perhaps the greatest assault on DISH has been that on its air.

DISH Mayor Calvin Tillman, concerned about his town's air quality and the lack of any action by state or federal regulators, commissioned a professional engineering firm with expertise in air pollution control issues to perform an Ambient Air Monitoring Analysis. The analysis compared levels of contaminants in the air to the Effects Screening Levels (ESLs) established by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The stark findings speak for themselves:

"Laboratory results confirmed the presence of multiple Recognized and Suspected Human Carcinogens in fugitive air emissions present on several locations tested in the Town of DISH. The compounds identified are commonly known to emanate from industrial processes directly related to the natural gas industrial processes of exploration, drilling, flaring and compression. The laboratory results confirmed levels in excess of TCEQ's Short Term and Long Term ESLs. In addition, several locations confirmed exceedences in a chemical identified by TCEQ with the capability for 'disaster potential.'"

The chemicals exceeding ESLs include benzene, naphthalene, xylenes, and others which are known to cause cancer and other serious illnesses.

Wilma Subra, a renowned chemist and microbiologist who works with citizens to help them understand and combat environmental issues in their communities, reviewed the consultant study and concluded that the ambient air testing detected a total of 16 volatile organic compounds that exceeded the ESLs at five locations. One location alone had 10 chemicals in concentrations that exceeded ESLs.

Earlier this year I wrote about a study that looked at air emissions in six counties in the Barnett shale region, including the county where DISH is located.  This study by a professor at Southern Methodist University found that natural gas drilling in the region is generating considerable emissions of air toxic compounds like benzene and formaldehyde. The study also concluded that cost effective air pollution control strategies are readily available "off-the-shelf," can substantially reduce emissions and can reduce costs for oil and gas operators due to a resulting increased production of natural gas and condensate.

Unfortunately, the Clean Air Act has special loopholes for the oil and gas industry. These loopholes allow the industry to emit hazardous air pollutants known to be harmful to human health when other industries are prohibited from doing so. It is time to close these loopholes and protect communities around the country.

*Yes, DISH is correctly spelled in all capital letters. It is named after the DISH Network.