Greens Recycle Debunked Ozone Claims to Attack Texas Oil and Gas

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

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A new report from two environmental activist groups alleges oil and natural gas development is harming North Texas children, despite an abundance of data showing such claims are not true.

The report, authored by Boston-based Clean Air Task Force and Washington, DC-based Earthworks, claims ozone “that results from oil and gas industry pollution poses a real threat to children who suffer from asthma.” The report also claims the metropolitan area with the most oil and gas-related asthma attacks is Dallas-Fort Worth. 

The accusation that oil and natural gas development is a major contributor to Texas ozone levels is not new, although it has been repeatedly disproven with state data. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) maintains the state’s most extensive air monitoring system in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, which has consistently shown that oil and natural gas development is not a major contributor to North Texas ozone. The state’s continuous air monitoring program shows oil and natural gas sources only account for about 10 percent of total NOx emissions in the Dallas-Fort Worth area; for VOCs, it’s only about 13 percent.

In fact, research funded by anti-drilling interests has shown that even if you eliminated all oil and natural gas development in North Texas, you would not even put a dent in regional ozone levels.

Last year, research funded by Downwinders at Risk showed that a 100 percent reduction in emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from oil and natural gas sources in North and East Texas – something that could only be achieved by completely shutting down development – would have a negligible impact on local ozone levels. At most, such a radical proposal would reduce ozone by a little more than five parts per billion, and even that would only occur at just one of the region’s air monitors. Across the whole region, the environmental impact would be imperceptible, although the economic impact of destroying oil and natural gas development would certainly be staggering. 

Across North Texas, ozone levels have actually decreased as Barnett Shale gas production increased, which would be impossible if oil and natural gas development were a major contributor to ozone.

The same thing is true for South Texas. According to the Alamo Area Council of Governments, emissions from the Eagle Ford Shale constitute only three percent of the region’s total NOx and VOC emissions. Once again, even if you completely eliminating drilling, it would have virtually no impact on ozone levels in the San Antonio metropolitan area.

We are a fast-growing metropolitan area, and punitive ozone rules would only drive businesses out of North Texas.

History of Misinformation

The willingness to make false claims about health impacts from oil and natural gas development is nothing new for Earthworks, which has a documented history of misrepresenting emissions data and shamefully using children as political props.

For example, the organization’s “Project Playground” report in 2014 – released through their affiliate ShaleTest – suggested Texas energy workers were endangering “thousands of children,” based upon short-term emissions levels that they wrongly compared against long-term exposure values. Compared against the proper health thresholds, the data in the report showed emissions were actually below levels that would pose a health concern. A year earlier, Earthworks made similar claims in South Texas.

The TCEQ has repeatedly criticized Earthworks and others for using this “not scientifically appropriate” comparison, yet they have continued to do so. The state has collected millions of data points on air quality in both the Barnett Shale and Eagle Ford Shale, and has determined that “the monitoring data provide evidence that shale play activity does not significantly impact air quality or pose a threat to human health.”

Those results don’t mesh with the advocacy positions of the groups who released the latest report, who claim it is “critical” for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose more rules and regulations on Texas oil and natural gas activity. 

Dubious ‘Solutions’

The “solutions” identified by Earthworks and Clean Air Task Force, meanwhile, are nothing more than rhetorical tricks designed to mask the factual deficiencies in their report. In most if not all cases, these inappropriate or unworkable mandates would only serve to increase the cost of drilling and put more Texas men and women out of work – all without any environmental gain.

For example, the groups call for wider adoption of “vapor recovery units,” which they claim will “greatly reduce emissions of VOCs.” VRUs capture vapor from liquid storage tanks, but the Barnett Shale in North Texas is predominantly “dry gas,” meaning VRUs are not usually feasible options. Pipeline companies in North Texas often use pressures that are too high for VRUs, which is why companies instead use internal combustion units or other technologies to achieve compliance with state and federal air regulations. The Barnett Shale Energy Education Council has more information about the limits of VRUs.

The groups also call for replacing high-emitting pneumatic equipment with low- or zero-bleed equipment to reduce emissions. The only problem is that’s already largely in place in the Barnett Shale, where the use of low-bleed, ultra-low bleed, and no-bleed pneumatics has been widely adopted. One of the region’s largest producers already uses low-bleed valves on all of its wells.

The State of Texas has had DFW-specific rules in place for years, which require significant controls on sources of NOx and VOC emissions. The TCEQ has credited these rules with significantly reducing emissions from oil and natural gas sources in the Barnett Shale region.

It’s also important to stress what even the Environmental Defense Fund has recognized: “It may not be possible, however, to replace all high-bleed devices with low or no bleed alternatives.”

Although these groups know how to blame oil and gas natural development with flashy reports, they clearly don’t understand the industry they’re criticizing.

Conclusion

Over the past several years, Texas air quality has continued to improve, and our state consistently receives high rankings for economic opportunity. The top two fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States are Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth. Six of the top ten small cities in America are in Texas, and number one is in DFW (Wylie). For 12 years in a row, Texas has been ranked the best state for business.

Earthworks and other environmental groups want people to believe that Texas is awful, that living here is insufferable, and that no company should relocate here. If the picture these groups have painted were even remotely accurate, there would be a mass exodus of families and businesses from Texas.

Instead, the opposite is happening. The world’s largest auto manufacturer recently decided to relocate its North American headquarters from regulation-heavy California to Texas. Facebook chose Fort Worth for a massive new $500 million data center. Practically every week there’s another major business announcing that it is relocating to Texas, which means more jobs and opportunities for Texas families.

Texans are increasingly tired of out-of-state interest groups who think they can dictate what’s good for the Lone Star State, and who then call for the federal government to control what types of energy we can produce and use. The activists who authored this report have never met an EPA regulation they didn’t like, and they have never had much use for state regulation in Texas.

In short, Earthworks and Clean Air Task Force are willfully denying facts and data that have been publicly available for many years. Their report is nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse to push for more costly regulation and more federal control in Texas, which would destroy jobs without providing any tangible environmental benefit.

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