The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Wednesday proposed new rules that would amend regulations governing oil and gas production facility equipment to minimize emissions and ensure that public health is protected.

The proposed rules are the agency's answer to the controversy over emissions spurred by the increased Barnett Shale activity encroaching on urban areas, notably around Fort Worth.

The proposal opens the permit by rule (PBR) and standard permit package for formal comment from the public and other stakeholders. It would update administrative and technical requirements, and includes enforceable monitoring, sampling, and record-keeping requirements as part of a program to enhance control and regulation in order to minimize emissions, the agency said.

TCEQ has recently had to respond to public protests that natural gas drilling in the Barnett near urban areas of Fort Worth is polluting the air with hazardous materials. The Texas agency also is involved in a dispute with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its air quality rules.

"This is the latest step in our efforts to ensure safe air quality in areas where oil and gas production is ongoing," said TCEQ Chairman Bryan W. Shaw. "The tremendous expansion of drilling in the Barnett Shale, in and around urban areas, required our agency to take a closer look at the potential impacts and protective measures that could be instituted to protect the public health around these operations."

"Because natural gas provides an increasing amount of our nation's energy demands, gas exploration and production in Texas will continue to grow," said TCEQ Commissioner Buddy Garcia. "These new rules will help further protect citizens from activities associated with these operations."

Earlier this year the TCEQ conducted an inventory of field equipment of gas producers in the Barnett Shale and said the data would be used for modeling emissions control measures (see Daily GPI, May 3).

"These PBR proposals are just a part of what the TCEQ is doing to ensure safe air in the Barnett Shale," said TCEQ Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein. "Another important step is installing new, state-of-the-art, long-term air quality monitors in the area. Long-term monitors are the gold standard when it comes to scientific determination of potential emission impacts. We have installed two new monitors, and have plans for three more. So far these new monitors are showing very low levels of benzene and other chemicals in ambient air."

As an adjunct to these rules, the TCEQ recently completed phase one of its special inventory to determine the location, number, and type of emissions sources located at upstream and midstream oil and gas operations within the Barnett Shale formation. The TCEQ has received special inventory data from companies that account for more than 99% of the 2009 production in the Barnett Shale formation.

Phase two of the special inventory is undergoing final tweaks and will begin this summer. It will require data on actual emissions; emissions sources; proximity to nearest off-site receptor; existing authorizations, and other information.

The two new monitors, in the DISH and Eagle Mountain Lake area, join existing monitors in Fort Worth and Dallas (see Daily GPI, Jan. 28). A new monitor is being installed in Flower Mound, and locations are being determined for a monitor in Tarrant County and an additional location in the Barnett Shale. Hourly results from these monitors can be found at the TCEQ Barnett Shale website, as well as information to assist in interpreting the monitoring data.

Previously, TCEQ, conducting emissions surveys with mobile monitors at various sites, had found only minor problems. The agency staff had used hand-held VOC monitors, gas chromatographic monitors mounted in specialized TCEQ vehicles, infrared cameras that detect volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions invisible to the naked eye, and instantaneous VOC canisters that take samples that are later analyzed in the laboratory with high levels of accuracy. Critics had complained that spot checks with mobile devices were not as accurate as long-term results from stationary monitors.

The TCEQ's regional office in Fort Worth has added seven new air inspectors to respond to air monitoring complaints quickly. In most cases, responses to complaints are handled within a few hours of receiving the complaint. About 550 sites have been surveyed since Aug. 1, 2009, the agency said. More than 275 canister samples, as well as mobile Real-Time Automated Gas Chromatograph samples, have been collected. Only two samples have been found above short-term levels of concern, and those facilities were quickly repaired. Further sampling at those sites showed very low levels of benzene emissions.

Texas also is fighting EPA in the courts over the federal agency's disapproval of TCEQ's flexible air emissions permits program, which EPA claims violates the federal Clean Air Act (see Daily GPI, July 28).

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