Three gas company employees who serve on a key committee related to natural gas drilling have a conflict of interest, the city's ethics review committee ruled today.
The city appointed the Air Quality Study committee to hire a contractor who will conduct air tests at natural gas wells and compressor stations. It's an important committee because it is intended to determine the level of toxic emissions around the gas sites, and could lead to new regulations on gas drilling in the city. The 10-member committee includes three representatives from major drilling companies -- Devon Energy, XTO Energy and Chesapeake Energy.
Jim Ashford, an East Fort Worth resident who is suing Chesapeake over noise and air pollution, filed the ethics complaint in the spring, saying it was improper for the gas companies to have representatives on a committee that is studying pollution that is potentially caused by their industry.
The city Ethics Review Committee sided with Ashford after a three-hour hearing.
The gas company employees have a "total absence of malice," said Rebecca Lucas, a lawyer who serves on the ethics committee. However, "The level of their loyalty to their employers has put them in a position of wearing two hats."
The Ethics Review Committee can't remove the three gas can't remove the three members from the air quality committee. Also, the three employees can appeal the decision to the City Council.
The ethics committee ruled against Ashford on another complaint. He argued that City Council members Jungus Jordan and Danny Scarth shouldn't vote on issues related to gas drilling because they earn money from natural gas royalties.
Ashford didn't cite specific instances in which the councilmen voted on gas drilling issues, though. The committee said Ashford can revise his complaint.
State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, wrote a letter to the head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Tuesday urging him to place an air monitor in her home town.
“Flower Mound, located in the heart of the Barnett Shale, would be an ideal site for such a station,” Nelson wrote in a letter to TCEQ Executive Director Mark Vickery. “Residents have taken a strong interest in the impact natural gas drilling is having on our economy, our environment and, most importantly, our health.”
Vickery has said the agency will install three new full-time air monitors in the Barnett Shale region by the end of the summer. The only such monitors are in northwest Fort Worth and near Eagle Mountain Lake.
Flower Mound’s Town Council recently approved moratoriums on any new gas drilling activity for the summer while it reviews its drilling ordinance.
On Monday, state Rep. Marc Veasey and state Sen. Wendy Davis, both Fort Worth Democrats, wrote Vickery requesting he install an air monitor in Southeast Fort Worth.
Elevated levels of toxic emissions found this spring near gas drilling equipment at two locations in the Fort Worth area were likely due to equipment problems that have been fixed, according to state officials.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality released results Monday of air testing performed June 3 and 4 that showed that toxic levels in the air near the sites decreased, according to agency officials.
The June tests followed April results that found higher-than-normal levels of benzene near two compressor stations: one run by Chesapeake Energy near East Berry Street and Yuma Avenue, and another operated by EnCana Oil and Gas at Interstate 20 and Markum Ranch Road.
Before the June tests, Chesapeake and EnCana replaced equipment at their compressor stations that they believed caused the elevated readings, said John Sadlier, the agency's deputy director.
"Both companies took steps," Sadlier said. "Sure enough, we're right back down to a base level."
One of the June tests at the Chesapeake facility found benzene at a level of 1.4 parts per billion by volume, which is the state's long-term screening level. Sadlier said officials usually worry only about levels above 1.4 parts per billion. The agency plans to install long-term air testing monitors at the facility.
"This is the second time we've had issues, minor that they are," with
this station, Sadlier said.
John Satterfield, Chesapeake's
director of environmental science, said the company's sites are all
operating in compliance with regulations.
"If for some reason we
again have some sort of faulty equipment or something's not operating
correctly, we'll fix it immediately," Satterfield said.
highest reading for benzene, which is known to cause cancer in humans,
was found at the EnCana site. The level was 0.72 parts per billion by
Sadlier stressed that long-term screening levels are the
amount of a toxin that may cause health problems if someone were exposed
for 24 hours a day for 70 years.
Read the full story from today's Star-Telegram here.
To read the commission's June air test results for the Fort Worth area, go to bit.ly/JuneAirTests. (Warning: It's a pdf.)
TCEQ's executive director Mark Vickery, sent the following statement regarding a request this morning from state Sen. Wendy Davis and state Rep. Marc Veasey, both Fort Worth Democrats, regarding more air testing in Southeast Fort Worth:
"Several months ago, the TCEQ ordered three new Auto GC air monitoring systems for deployment to the Barnett Shale region. We expect to have monitors up and running by the end of the summer. The agency is now evaluating the best locations for the new monitors based on criteria that includes the number of facilities in a geographic area, proximity to residents, potential risk and meteorological conditions.
"We will continue to work closely with all elected officials and the public in the Barnett Shale in an effort to provide real-time air quality data available around the clock. I continue to believe there is no immediate health risk in North Texas, but some areas near oil and gas facilities require additional monitoring."
"Gasland," a scathing documentary of the impact of natural gas drilling on the environment and the health of those living in proximity of rigs, premieres on HBO tonight. Here's our look at the debate over the film's message and fairness.
The film was screened in May at a fundraiser in Fort Worth. Drilling activists are excited about the film, with some hosting watch parties tonight.
"Gasland" is just one of several documentaries on natural gas drilling to come out recently. "Haynesville," which explores both the pluses and minuses of natural gas drilling, is scheduled to screen in Dallas and Fort Worth in July. More details here.
State Sen. Wendy Davis and State Rep. Marc Veasey called on state regulators to do more testing for air pollution around natural gas drilling sites in Southeast Fort Worth.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality admitted last month that it suppressed test results showing higher-than normal levels of benzene and other toxic compounds at four sites in Fort Worth. Two of the sites are in Veasey's district, which covers historically low-income parts of Southeast Fort Worth.
Davis and Veasey sent a letter to the TCEQ's executive director asking him to install a full-time air monitor in Southeast Fort Worth. Currently, the only such monitors are in Northwest Fort Worth and near Eagle Mountain Lake.
"If our state environmental agency wants to show they are concerned about the health and safety of people living in my district, they will immediately put into place a full-time air monitor and make the data available to the public," Veasey said in a press release,
Burgess, a Lewisville Republican, said it would be more appropriate to have the state legislature's Sunset Committee look into the problems at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. He sent a letter to the Sunset Commission on Wednesday, saying the whole affair "calls into question the agency's credibility."
And he said he'll be there when the Sunset Commission holds hearings on the TCEQ in December.
A TCEQ spokesman issued a statement Thursday saying
"We have discussed this issue with Congressman Burgess, and we believe we
answered all his questions. We have talked to Sunset Advisory Committee staff
already, and look forward to fully answering any more questions they may have on
this or any other subject. We continue our efforts to fully inform the public
and elected officials on our investigations and monitoring results in the Fort
Worth area. All of our monitoring results in Fort Worth, including long term
monitoring at Meacham Field, show results far below any levels of short-term
A test by the Texas Railroad Commission shows arsenic, barium, chromium, lead and selenium in a residential water well in DISH, the Denton County town that has been the flashpoint of the controversy over air pollution from natural gas wells.
The contaminated water turned up at a home in DISH shortly after a nearby gas well was drilled.
"These results clearly show a correlation between the natural gas drilling process and water contamination, and this industry should no longer make claims that they have never contaminated a water source," Mayor Calvin Tillman said in a news release.
The Railroad Commission says it conducted a follow-up test, which came back negative, and is preparing to do a third test. It also ordered drilling companies in the area to conduct pressure tests on their wells. The results of the third water test should be available by the end of June and the pressure tests should be done by June 14, commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye said. Commission staffers plan to witness the pressure test, Nye said.
Water pollution has been a hot topic in the Barnett Shale gas field, where more than 17,000 gas wells have been drilled. Most of the wells are completed using hydraulic fracturing, a process that uses millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals to create cracks in tight rock formations and release natural gas. The water used in hydraulic fracturing winds up contaminated with drilling chemicals and salt from the rock formation, and each well continues to produce millions of gallons of water that is contaminated with salt and hydrocarbons.
The Railroad Commission and the drilling industry have maintained that there are no cases of water pollution linked to hydraulic fracturing. As we reported in December, though, residents and local officials say there's evidence of water pollution from several sources, including leaks at well sites and problems with the disposal wells used to get rid of all the wastewater.
As most of our readers know, DISH is a town of about 200 in Denton County that is home to several natural gas wells and a large complex of pipelines and compressor stations. Mayor Calvin Tillman and the Town Council have been pushing the gas industry to do something about the fumes coming off the compressor stations. The town spent some of its own money to test the air near the compressors, and found high levels of benzene and other pollutants.
That forced the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to step up its monitoring for air pollution in DISH, and across the region.