The number of ambient air quality monitors in the Barnett Shale region of North Texas will increase to 15 from eight, state Sen. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, TX, said Monday.

The Flower Mound, TX, Republican represents one of the most prolific shale drilling areas in North Texas. She joined other state legislators and area officials to announce the additional monitors to be installed across the region.

"Our economy -- especially in Texas -- cannot flourish without energy," Nelson, who chairs the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, stated. "But none of us can flourish without our health, and that has to be our top priority moving forward."

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates air pollution in the state, monitors ambient air data in some of the busiest drilling areas of the Barnett Shale but most of the readings earlier this year were "well below" acceptable chemical exposure limits (see Daily GPI, Jan. 28; Jan. 6). The automated gas chromatograph monitors collect emissions data 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to measure the levels of 45 volatile organic compounds.

"So far the department has found that our area's testing is in line with what you would find in similarly populated regions," Nelson said. "But we have to remain vigilant." The new monitoring sites, she said, "are going to be welcome news to our community."

Last month an industry-funded assessment of ambient air quality in the Barnett Shale found no harmful levels of benzene or other compounds, according to the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council (BSEEC) (see Daily GPI, July 15).

Nelson said she is working closely with the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), which conducted biological tests on Denton County residents, to determine if they had elevated levels of any drilling byproducts in their systems.

Members of the Texas Legislature on Monday also directed the TCEQ to contract with a third party to evaluate and air quality data. In addition, the DSHS has been asked to examine whether any cancer clusters exist in the shale play.

According to the TCEQ, there are 11,627 producing wells in the Barnett Shale's 23-county area. Including the Barnett play, there are 59,541 producing wells in the state.

In July TCEQ proposed a new permit by rule and standard permit package to update the requirements for natural gas and oil production facilities to minimize drilling emissions (see Daily GPI, July 30). A series of public meetings to explain the proposal are set to begin Aug. 31 across the state in Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Tyler, Midland, Amarillo, Beaumont, Waco and Houston. On Sept. 14 the TCEQ plans to hold a public hearing to receive comments on the proposed rulemaking.

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