The results of a long-awaited, million-dollar study of air emissions in Fort Worth's portion of the Barnett Shale in North Texas are in and rather anticlimactic. While a handful of sites were found to have emissions exceeding regulatory allowances, setback requirements for natural gas facilities were generally found to be adequate.
The research was conducted by Eastern Research Group Inc. (ERG) and paid for by the city of Fort Worth.
"Based on the emission rates that ERG calculated for this project, five sites -- a processing facility, three compressor stations and one well pad -- had overall emission rates that exceed regulatory thresholds that are supposed to trigger certain permitting requirements," the study report said.
"For the overwhelming majority of sites considered in this study, the modeling analysis indicates that Fort Worth's 600-foot setback distance is adequate. For the relatively few sites with multiple, large-line compressor engines, the modeling analysis found some areas beyond the setbacks to have estimated acrolein and formaldehyde concentrations greater than protective health-based screening levels published by [the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality]. However, the estimated air pollution levels did not reach levels that have actually been found to cause symptoms or illness among exposed populations."
ERG researchers noted that while no "significant health threats" were revealed beyond the "relatively few" setback issues, natural gas exploration and production is still taking place in a residential environment in Fort Worth. "Though the most toxic pollutants these sources emit are released in relatively low quantities, ERG fully supports implementing all reasonable precautions to reduce emissions from the well pads and compressor stations."
The North Texas environmental group Downwinders At Risk said on its blog that the Fort Worth City Council "regularly" waives setback requirements, "and so there are many families living closer than an 'adequate' distance away from a heavy industrial site. What do you do now with those folks who live, with the city's blessing, within 'inadequate' distances of such?"
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said the report is encouraging but requires careful review. "It's good to hear that ERG didn't find an immediate health risk from these gas production sites, but that doesn't mean that there isn't more we, the state and the natural gas industry can do to reduce emissions in a region that already has severe air quality challenges," she said.
The release of the final ERG report had been delayed more than once as the firm worked to finish its study. An early report, released earlier this year, required a correction as it overestimated the amount of volatile organic compounds at one of the monitored sites (see Shale Daily, March 2).
A public meeting to discuss the study findings is scheduled for 6 p.m. CDT Tuesday in Fort Worth City Council chambers.