Sunday, December 30, 2007

What Was That Fire in the Sky?

Christmas lights? A scene from Blade Runner? What was that thing burning at I-30 and Beach Street on Saturday night?

Welcome to another aspect of Barnett Shale gas drilling that you may not be aware of: flaring. According to Earthworks, a non-profit organization of scientists and engineers with a history of helping mining industries clean up their practices, flaring is the practice of burning gas that is deemed uneconomical to collect and sell. The practice is also used to burn gases that would otherwise present a safety problem.

The Ventura County Air Pollution Control District in California has estimated that the following air pollutants may be released from natural gas flares: benzene, formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, including naphthalene), acetaldehyde, acrolein, propylene, toluene, xylenes, ethyl benzene and hexane. Researchers in Canada (Leahey, Douglas M., Preston, Katherine and Strosher, Mel. 2001. "Theoretical and Observational Assessments of Flare Efficiencies, Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association. Volume 51. p.1614) have measured more than 60 air pollutants downwind of natural gas flares.

Are any of those pollutants in this or any other Barnett Shale flaring? Who knows? No one in Texas is exactly going out of their way to keep an eye on things. The Denton-Record Chronicle reported in 2006 that although "both the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Railroad Commission are empowered to monitor industry emissions, Ramona Nye, spokesperson for the railroad commission, said that monitoring is really up to the environmental commission." But the TCEQ doesn't actually go to a site when there is a flare and measure what's going on, the agency only monitors it from its fixed-site air quality stations.

We are looking at thousands of potential gas wells being drilling in the Fort Worth area. Because the Fort Worth-Dallas area is already struggling to meet clean air standards by 2010, it would be in the best interest of those of us who live in Fort Worth to understand the impact of flaring on our air quality. After all, this isn't just about air we breathe -- which is pretty dang important. It also hits us in the pocketbook. The Fort Worth-Dallas area faces the loss of federal highway funds and other economic sanctions for failing to meet clean air standards.

Even without flaring, we have enough to deal with. Why throw another log on the fire?

Fortunately, there is something we can do -- ask the City and the Gas Drilling Task Force to conduct an environmental impact study so we can know what we are dealing with. Contact the Mayor and your city council representative today. BTW, thanks to Don Young for the photo.

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