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Air Emissions Monitoring Planned for Eagle Ford

Texas environmental regulators are planning to launch monitoring of Eagle Ford Shale air emissions some time next year. What has been learned from ongoing emissions monitoring in the Barnett Shale will be applied in the South Texas play, an engineer with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) told NGI's Shale Daily.

The liquids-rich Eagle Ford Shale is in the midst of a drilling boom not unlike what was experienced previously in the Barnett Shale to the north. Some residents living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have long complained about air emissions from drilling activities in the Barnett Shale, and TCEQ has an established air monitoring program in the region.

Now it is planning something similar for the 24-county Eagle Ford Shale region.

"Right now we are developing the plans on what it would take to accomplish that," said Susana Hildebrand, TCEQ chief engineer. "In order to do monitoring, we have to have the resources, the equipment...to determine where we could even put monitors. If we put any stationary monitors in, we would have to make sure that there was electricity, things like that. All of those logistics have to be worked out before any monitoring actually hits the road."

There is no money currently set aside in at TCEQ for an Eagle Ford monitoring program. Hildebrand said the agency would examine its resources "and see how we can shift things around to accommodate the needs."

Based on TCEQ's experience with monitoring emissions in the Barnett Shale, Hildebrand said Eagle Ford operators that are following regulations shouldn't have anything to worry about. "...[W]e've observed that when the facility is operating correctly, we don't see a concern with benzene concentrations. And benzene is kind of the toxic that we track because it has the lowest health threshold that we look at, so we know that if the benzene levels are low and below our action levels...then we feel comfortable with the other pollutants.

"So when we have seen concentrations that are higher than we are comfortable with, typically it's because there is some sort of operation going on that needs to be looked into, perhaps a valve left open or things like that, things that are correctable.

"And that was a very important thing to learn...If the operator is paying attention to what they are doing and operating within our regulations, then we don't see [emissions] concentrations of concern."

Meanwhile in the Barnett Shale the Environmental Protection Agency is considering adding Wise and Hood counties, which overlie the Barnett Shale, to the Dallas-Fort Worth nonattainment area. Gas drilling activities in the region are thought by EPA to be contributing to the ground-level ozone, or smog, problem (see Shale Daily, Dec. 13).

The Barnett Shale air monitoring program now includes a dozen stationary monitors sampling for volatile organic compounds and other pollutants. "TCEQ is using state-of-the-art technology to address emissions from Barnett Shale activities and overall oil and gas operations," the agency said on its website. "These initiatives will continue to reduce emissions through improved agency policies, guidance for regulated entities and possible enforcement if necessary."

Recently, State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) raised concerns that a compilation of TCEQ air quality findings in the Barnett Shale showed that residents there are at greater risk from energy patch air emissions than a recently completed study would suggest. The study was paid for by the city of Fort Worth. Burnam said his examination of TCEQ data revealed concentrations of benzene that exceeded accepted guidelines (see Shale Daily, Dec. 27).

"I think the difference between the Barnett Shale and the Eagle Ford goes back to...urban versus rural," Hildebrand said. "We've seen drilling operations in Texas for years, but typically they've been out in the country and not necessarily near people. That was something that really distinguished the Barnett Shale from other drilling activities.

"In the Eagle Ford Shale, we see that more as a rural concern, but the gas that comes out of it may be a wetter gas, so we are interested in seeing how the change in the composition of the gas affects emissions."

The Eagle Ford region got on TCEQ's radar because of the increased drilling activity there, Hildebrand said. Another region that has seen significant increases in drilling activity is the Permian Basin in West Texas. For now, though, TCEQ does not have plans to initiate air monitoring there.

"At this time our targets are on Eagle Ford, continuing to monitor Barnett Shale and be observant about what's happening there, but also we see Eagle Ford coming up very fast so we want to make sure that we're able to answer questions that people may have about it."

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