2009 Archives

SMU professor, energy industry debate pollution study


The following is from the Feb. 23, 2009, edition of The Fort Worth Business Press and concerns an air quality report by Professor Al Armendariz of SMU's Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering.

February 24, 2009


A study released by a Southern Methodist University engineering professor that equates Barnett Shale-related pollution to the Metroplex’s entire traffic circulation has raised a collective eyebrow from some energy industry representatives.

“Emissions from Natural Gas Production in the Barnett Shale Area and Opportunities for Cost-Effective Improvements,” written by SMU engineering professor Al Armendariz, was commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund, a New York City-based nonprofit organization. The 43-page study analyzes the increase in natural gas production in 21 North Texas counties throughout the past decade, and the impact on air quality in the Metroplex and beyond. The study also recommends ways the industry can reduce its emissions.

Data collected came from a range of sources, including the Railroad Commission of Texas, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and natural gas exploration companies.

In the study, Armendariz reports that on-road motor vehicle emissions from five North Texas counties – Denton, Tarrant, Parker, Johnson and Ellis – was estimated at 121 tons per day, according to an August 2007 report prepared for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

“Summer oil and gas emissions in the five counties of the D-FW metropolitan area with significant oil and gas production was estimated to be 165 tpd, indicating that the oil and gas sector likely has greater emissions than motor vehicles in these counties,” according to the report.

The study quickly prompted a rebuttal from two energy industry organizations.

The Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, or TIPRO, and the Texas Oil & Gas Association collectively issued a statement criticizing the study for inaccurate information based on incorrect assumptions.

“Different formations of natural gas vary dramatically. Yet the study assumes all natural gas production is the same,” according to the release. “Barnett Shale is typically a dry-gas zone with very little condensate production, producing much lower emission levels than ‘wet gas’ from other production zones.”

Armendariz refutes that claim, adding “geologic maps provided by Barnett Shale oil and gas producers themselves were some of the tools used to account for the varying composition of the natural gas.”

Debbie Hastings, vice president for environmental affairs with TXOGA, said the organization issues statements regarding studies when it deems necessary.

“I’m a little worried that there’s a definite public misconception of what [Armendariz and the EDF] are saying,” Hastings said. “The numbers we have is that our drilling has increased dramatically but the ozone levels have decreased.”

Hastings couldn’t give specific figures, but said the organization was working to compile a “graph to demonstrate that.” She also said the energy industry was the good guy, had created a lot of jobs and that natural gas was one of the cleanest fuels out there.

“We recognize that there is pollution from the industry just as there is with any industry, however, the technology we use in the Barnett Shale has far surpassed some of the technology that’s ever been used,” Hastings said. “We want to be good neighbors in that area because we’re in a more populated area.”

In a letter to State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, who serves on the Environmental Regulation Committee, Armendariz said TXOGA’s press release was an attempt to discredit his work.

“Frankly, I have doubts that the Texas Oil and Gas Association took the time to carefully read the report,” Armendariz wrote in the Feb. 13 letter. He said the TXOGA press release illustrated an “unsophisticated level of understanding, sophomoric statements, and errors of fact.”

Wind predominantly blows from southeast to northwest 96 percent of the time, away from the smog formation in the D-FW area, according to TXOGA’s rebuttal.

“The greenhouse gas emissions from Barnett Shale oil and gas activity would have the same impact on global climate irrespective of where they were emitted, be that west of D-FW, the north pole, or the middle of the Amazon jungle,” Armendariz said.

With respect to peak emissions during the summer, TXOGA charges that gas samples from the Barnett Shale would result in estimates six times to 10 times less than those in the Armendariz report.

“The annual average tank emission factors were provided to me by one of the largest gas producers in the state of Texas, based on numerical computer analysis that they themselves performed on a series of their Barnett Shale tanks,” Armendariz said. “They themselves indicated in phone calls with me that they would expect significantly higher emissions during the summer. The peak summer emission factors were based on gas analysis from samples actually collected in the Barnett Shale area during a 2006 study paid for by the TCEQ and conducted by an engineering contractor based in Austin.”

The report by Armendariz, "Emissions from Natural Gas Production in the Barnett Shale Area and Opportunities for Cost-Effective Improvements," is available at http://www.edf.org/documents/9235_Barnett_Shale_Report.pdf.

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