The value of fugitive natural gas and condensate air emissions in the Barnett Shale of North Texas is about $52 million a year, according to research paid for by a clean air group, which asserts that "simple air pollution control devices" would capture this lost revenue if they were installed in the nine-county nonattainment area around Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW).

"Leaking Money: Potential Revenues from Reduction of Natural Gas and Condensate Emissions in North Central Texas" by Melanie Sattler was commissioned by the group Downwinders at Risk to provide what is claimed to be the first estimate of monetary losses to the gas industry "as a result of continuing to allow intentional releases of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the DFW area."

Sattler, an engineer, estimated that the industry could collect product worth $51.9 million annually from installation of those controls in the nonattainment area's nine counties, plus Wise County. Wise County was included because of its concentration of gas facilities and the likelihood of it being included in the DFW ozone area when a new federal standard for the pollutant is announced this summer, Sattler said.

"We've known for some time that the technology was readily available to dramatically reduce this kind of pollution," said Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck. "Now we can point to millions in new profits that could be made if it was uniformly installed in our region, a region that's been violating the Clean Air Act for 20 years and needs the gas industry to do its fair share for cleaner air. With this report, the industry and TCEQ [the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] have officially run out of excuses.

"We have no doubt that some industry spokespeople will find reason to quibble with our numbers -- even though Dr. Sattler's math is based on industry and TCEQ sources."

Indeed, 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. He explained that equipment to capture emissions from condensate tanks might not be feasible in instances where only one tank would be fitted. Such equipment is usually used on batteries of multiple tanks, he said.

So tallying the emissions from discrete tanks is one thing, but it doesn't mean that the emissions from individual tanks could be effectively captured; their emissions might be too small for the equipment to work properly, Ireland said.

"To say that these profit-maximizing companies are somehow so poor at business practices that they're letting money escape into the air, to me is just ridiculous," Ireland said. "In each case of where a device could be installed, there are a number of operational and economic considerations that have to be made. For example, the vapor recovery units that are referred to in this paper cannot be installed on dry natural gas wells that are in the core area of the Barnett Shale around Fort Worth...because there's no vapor to recover...In those areas where there is condensate...there has to be enough vapor at any one site to make the device work. There's a minimum amount of vapor that has to be generated in order for the unit to do its job."

Downwinders wants TCEQ to include gas patch emissions in the current nonattainment air plan for DFW. The plan is scheduled for a vote on Wednesday. "VOC pollution from the gas industry has grown significantly in the last six years, to the point where the TCEQ concludes it now accounts for more annual tonnage than all the cars and trucks in DFW combined," Downwinders said. "Because this growth in emissions has happened so recently, it's never been addressed in any previous DFW air plans."

TCEQ recently released a revision to the DFW state implementation plan (SIP) that for the first time proposed "modest cuts," according to Downwinders, in shale gas patch emissions: 14 tons per day from new controls on condensate tanks. But Schermbeck said that's too little in light of the 100 tons per day of VOC emissions that TCEQ has said gas facilities emit in DFW. "What TCEQ is proposing is just a drop in the bucket compared with what could and should happen on June 8th," he said.

The SIP revision would incorporate a "proposed revision to 30 Texas Administrative Code Chapter 115 that would reduce VOC emissions from affected sources in the DFW area by requiring 95% control of volatile organic compounds emissions from crude oil and condensate storage tanks emitting over 25 tons of VOC per year," according to a TCEQ agenda item.

Drilling activity in the Barnett Shale has dropped by 14% from a year ago, according to NGI's Shale Daily Unconventional Rig Count. For the week ending June 3, 71 rigs were actively drilling for oil or gas in the play, down from the 83 rigs that were operating last year for the week.