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Texas Regulators Adopt Barnett Shale Air Rules

Texas regulators Wednesday approved new air emissions rules affecting producers in the Barnett Shale of North Texas. Industry groups have said the rules are too strict, while environmentalists said they don't go far enough.

The rules change addresses emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and requires "a more stringent level of control for VOC storage in the Dallas-Fort Worth 1997 eight-hour ozone nonattainment area and [the reduction of] VOC emissions, including benzene, from oil and gas production sources," said the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

The vote in favor of the rules revision was 3-0. The original change was proposed earlier this year following concern voiced by area residents at public hearings as well as numerous studies of air emissions in the area. Oil and gas operations in the Barnett Shale often are near residences, schools and other protected facilities. Air emissions from tank batteries and other oil and gas facilities is just one area of friction between residents and energy development.

As originally proposed, the changes to Texas Administrative Code Chapter 115 would have affected facilities emitting at least 25 tons of VOCs annually (see Shale Daily, June 7). However, the version of the rule that was adopted Wednesday affects facilities emitting 50 tons of VOCs or more per year, a change that environmentalists were not happy with.

A report released earlier this year by environmental group Downwinders at Risk said the energy industry was leaving money on the table by not doing more to capture VOCs. However, Ed Ireland of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council told NGI's Shale Daily that if there was money to be had in capturing emissions, producers would be doing it.

Ireland provided input to TCEQ during the rulemaking process. He said "TCEQ is using flawed data and assumptions, which have resulted in flawed rules that are costly and ineffective. Instead of using the actual Phase II Barnett Special Inventory data (which the TCEQ has had in hand since January of this year), which shows that actual emissions are significantly lower than TCEQ assumes, they continue to base their rule making on the HARC H51C VOC flash emissions factor of 33.3 lb/bbl, which has no basis in reality for the Barnett Shale.

"In fact, the TCEQ even notes this objection in their executive summary dated Nov. 18, 2011: 'However, new data from Phase II of the Barnett Shale Special Inventory indicate that a lower emission factor may be more representative of the average VOC emissions per barrel of condensate in the 23-county Barnett Shale area, which includes the DFW area.'"

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering nationwide rules that would affect energy patch emissions and some in the energy industry fear that will unnecessarily overlap with the state rules.

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