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Texas Commission Warns Producers to Control Air Emissions

A "stripout" notice is scheduled to go to all of Texas' natural gas, oil and pipeline operators in March to inform them to be "diligent" in controlling potential air emission releases, particularly volatile organic compounds like benzene, the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) said last week.

Stepped up efforts to control air emissions at production sites in Texas follows comments by Al Armendariz, the newly appointed administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 6, which is headquartered in Dallas. Armendariz recently told reporters that EPA would be increasing its inspections of gas and oil wells in the state to ensure that federal environmental regulations were being followed.

Every month the RRC calculates the coming month's allowable production rate for every eligible Texas well, otherwise known as a stripout notice. On occasion the commission also uses the stripout to provide notice to operators of "important" information, it said.

"We are essentially telling oil, gas and pipeline operators that they need to step up their efforts to ensure they are conducting their business in a safe and environmentally friendly manner," said RRC Chairman Victor Carrillo. "I'm urging operators to get out there and make sure they double check their operations."

The notice comes as residents living in the Fort Worth Basin, where Barnett Shale producers have extensive drilling operations under way, continue to push for more stringent regulation of drilling emissions. Last week town leaders in DISH, TX, became the latest to vote to put a hold on issuing new gas drilling permits until the town's drilling ordinance is reviewed and possibly updated (see NGI, Feb. 1).

"If a valve is leaking, fix it; if a thief hatch is open, close it," said Carrillo. "Don't wait for us to come inspect the facility and require you to fix the problem. All of industry should be proactive about undertaking regular, ongoing inspection and maintenance of wells, valves, pipelines, tanks, hatches and other equipment to assure full adherence to applicable rules."

The RRC's Oil & Gas Division performed more than 128,000 inspections in 2009, Carrillo noted.

"By and large, Texas oil, gas and pipeline operators continue to do an excellent job in regular maintenance and upkeep, but it is prudent, particularly in this environment of heightened awareness and often false accusations, to be ever-vigilant to ensure that our Texas energy sector continues to be the economic development and job creation powerhouse that it is today," he said.

Carrillo said he recently sat down with Armendariz to discuss the two agencies' overlapping authority.

"Dr. Armendariz and I had a good visit," said Carrillo. "I extended an olive branch and offered to help work on well reasoned, practical solutions regarding issues facing the agencies. I truly hope the RRC and the EPA can find common ground on our approach to the issues before us. However, I refuse to irrationally overreact to this situation.

"I still stand by my position that a drilling moratorium, like the one demanded of the RRC by Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth), would be a drastic overreaction based on the currently available science and facts" (see NGI, Jan. 18; Jan. 11). "I refuse to send tens of thousands of Texans to the unemployment line at a time when jobs are needed most.

"Make no mistake -- a drilling moratorium would do exactly that. We need to monitor this situation and address air emissions in a practical and reasonable manner. The stripout notice is an excellent step in that direction."

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