The Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP), sponsored by the environmental advocacy organization Earthworks, recently obtained a series of videos produced by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) showing infrared images of natural gas facilities emitting plumes of volatile gases not visible to the naked eye. Texas OGAP, a collaboration between OGAP and Texas activists, has now posted these videos on YouTube. One of the videos depicts emissions from the UT Arlington gas well site.
Last week TCEQ verified the authenticity of the YouTube video and provided me with three additional infrared videos of the University well site (see list of links below). One is a slightly revised version of the August footage; it includes a visible-light photo of the installation and correctly identifies the operator of the equipment venting gases as DFW Midstream (the version on YouTube incorrectly indicates the operator is Carrizo Oil and Gas).
The other two were shot by agency personnel in October. One shows emissions from the same vent stack depicted in the August footage, which TCEQ staff member Ken Rozacky told me is part of a natural gas compressor. The second shows emissions from a vent stack on equipment identified as a dehydrator.
OGAP obtained the original set of TCEQ infrared videos through a formal Public Information Request (aka open records request). The existence of TCEQ’s Barnett Shale videos was first widely publicized August 1 when local activists released a compilation of images entitled ”Un-clean, Un-natural, Un-healthy.” The video compilation juxtaposes conventional video images with infrared images in which volatile emissions are visible:
The composition of the vented gases is not identified in the videos of the UT Arlington site. The OGAP compilation video showing emissions at facilities across the region identifies the gases only as “hydrocarbon vapors” but also includes a long list of compounds that such emissions “could contain.”
Many of these are among substances whose presence downwind of the UT Arlington well site are periodically monitored by TCEQ. Analysis of an air sample that TCEQ personnel collected at the site in August 2008 confirmed the presence of numerous compounds, all apparently at concentrations below — and usually far below — the so-called Effects Screening Level, the level at which short-term effects would be expected to occur or at which odor would be deemed officially objectionable. The 2008 analysis does not identify the specific sources of these compounds, and it isn’t clear what impact the compressor and dehydrator vent stacks have on air quality in the vicinity of the facility.
Vice President for Communications Jerry Lewis asked me to convey two points about the legal status of emissions from the University site:
- “NO UNPERMITTED EMISSIONS would show up in a video of these operations in August 2009 or at any point before or after that, including today. The … operation on campus is, and always has been, in full compliance with all local, state, and federal regulations related to air quality.”
- “Neither [the operators] nor UT Arlington have been accused of ANY VIOLATIONS of air quality laws. Frequent and stringent air quality testing in the area — often in excess of what is customary for regulators — has been conducted to satisfy occasional complaints from a small handful of neighbors, yet there have been no violations found.”
Lewis also stated:
“… DFW Midstream’s facility includes a specific piece of equipment called a BTEX Eliminator, which is specifically designed to capture and destroy benzene and other similar material.”
A report on the gas industry’s impact on North Central Texas air quality was released in January by Southern Methodist University environmental engineer Al Armendariz, who served as a consultant on the OGAP video compilation project and has recently been appointed as administrator of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 6. Armendariz made a presentation at UT Arlington in November 2008.
OGAP public information request, Oct. 20
Additional TCEQ videos:
Infrared video of compressor vent stack, August 25
Infrared video of compressor vent stack, October 10
Infrared video of dehydrator vent stack, October 10