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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

TX modeling study highlights risk of local smog from natgas operations

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.  


  1. GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution), a Pittsburgh-based group, came to Indiana County and presented in front of the county planning commission. They tried to warn the folks of the two main perils of gas drilling (as far as air pollution is concerned). The VOC's coming from NGL storage tanks, and the emissions from compressor stations. They referenced studies done in TX. I looked into it, and Texas has LOTS of very old, diesel powered, pollution-control-lacking compressors.

    In Indiana county, it's dry gas, so there are no NGL storage tanks. Obviously in some areas, there is wet gas, but not here. All of our compressors out here run on natural gas, and of course all new ones will have state of the art pollution controls. I'm no scientist, but I can't for the life of me imagine that a compressor station burning clean NG with controls is going to be worse for a community than, say, living next to a medium sized highway. I had to drive out towards the airport yesterday and could barely breathe while sitting in traffic on the Parkway West outbound.

  2. Mike,

    Thanks for reading. You hit on a very, very important point that gets to my comment on smart companies and smart regulations. Running compressors and other equipment on natgas instead of diesel, with best available pollution control technology, vastly reduces local air pollution potential. That should be the norm, and the industry standard, both in practice and in regulation. And where it is happening, it should be highlighted and contrasted with more harmful practices to show what is possible.