The Dallas Observer reports on a new modeling study on natural gas processing and air pollution that was published in the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association by researcher Eduardo Olaguer of the Houston Advanced Research Center.
The paper looks at gas processing facilities in the Barnett Shale and finds that they can increase local ozone levels for several miles downwind, significantly increasing smog. The study calls for "significant controls" on emissions from oil and gas exploration and production.
The relationship between gas exploration and smog is not new. Sparsely-populated, rural Wyoming, for example, now has worse smog than Los Angeles because of its boom in natural gas drilling. However, the Olaguer study - because it was a modeling exercise - quickly drew criticism from the gas industry group Energy In Depth, which noted that emissions levels monitored by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (which, incidentally, also makes heavy use of models) "have shown there are 'no levels of concern for any chemicals,' and that there are 'no immediate health concerns from air quality in the area' due to oil and gas operations."
More monitoring, more data, and more studies are obviously needed to clear the air on this issue. But it is already clear that the risk of local air pollution is increased by natural gas operations. Monitoring is essential. Smart regulations and smart companies can avoid or minimize this risk with the best rules, operations, and technologies.