Guess What? That “Drilling” Permit is Really for a Refinery

Under the guise of "gas drilling," Dallas City Hall and industry are pressing for approval of a permit that would locate a gas refinery only 600 feet from the new Elm Fork soccer complex, and immediately give birth to one of the ten largest air polluters in the City of Dallas, as well as one of its most toxic.

"There's a huge toxic Trojan Horse hiding in what the City and Trinity East describe as just a gas drilling permit," charged clean air activist Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders at Risk. "In fact, the Elm Fork permit allows for the building of a gas refinery that houses at least three giant compressors as well as an entire acid gas removal unit that strips off hydrogen sulfide, one of the most dangerous substances in the gas patch."

A motion to "reconsider" the Dallas City Plan Commission's 7-5 December 20th rejection of the Elm Fork permit and two other Trinity East gas sites is being advocated by CPC Chair and Mayoral appointee Joe Alcantar at this Thursday's meeting. If successful, the "reconsideration" would require the CPC to hold a second hearing and re-vote on the permits less than a month after denying them.

Opponents say the move is an act of desperation on the part of the Mayor and City Manager to protect a secret deal that was made between the City and Trinity East when the company first paid for mineral rights leases on city owned land. In interviews, the Mayor himself has said that a "deal was cut." Residents say the public was left out of that deal. 

But after making calls to City Hall, Schermbeck is convinced that no one in Dallas city government is aware that the "gas drilling permit" being proposed by Trinity East is actually a permit to build a large gas refinery in the Trinity River floodplains.

"They're in way over their heads. City attorneys are still describing this as a drilling permit, but that's not what takes up most of the acreage on this site – it's all about the refinery."

During the December 20th City Plan Commission hearing on the permit, Trinity East representatives stated that the three proposed compressors alone – huge locomotive sized diesel-powered engines that produce thousands of horsepower in order to move gas through pipelines – would release 25 tons of air pollution each every year for an annual total of 75 tons.

That number would immediately place the facility among the city's ten largest air polluters according to the latest state emission totals from 2010. It would join power plants, asphalt and roofing materials manufacturers, and chemical plants as one of the city's biggest "stationary sources" of pollution.

However, Schermbeck thinks Trinity is low-balling their total air pollution impacts by not including other on-site refinery sources like its battery of storage tanks and "acid gas removal" operation that's designed to strip dangerous hydrogen sulfide off of natural gas streams through a series of acid baths and heat.

Hydrogen Sulfide is a harmful and toxic compound. It is a colorless, flammable gas that can be identified by its "rotten egg" odor. This invisible gas is heavier than air, travels easily along the ground, and builds up in low-lying, confined, and poorly ventilated areas. It acts as a chemical asphyxiant through inhalation exposure and its effects are similar to cyanide and carbon monoxide, which prevent the use of oxygen. 

The equipment to strip off Hydrogen Sulfide from raw gas is large, complicated and dangerous. Site plans show a 200 foot long "pipe rack" with at least 20 "point sources" or stacks, apart from the compressors, where pollution could be released into the atmosphere. 

"This isn’t a facility you want near parks or kids," said Schermbeck. "Yet, the City of Dallas seeks to put it just 600 feet away from its new huge soccer complex that’s meant to attract thousands of kids for hours every week."    

Such a gas facility also challenges regional smog goals. A 2012 study from the Houston Advanced Research Center found that "routine emissions from a single gas compressor station can raise ozone levels by 3 parts per billion (ppb) as far as five miles downwind, and sometimes by 10 ppb or more as far as 10 miles downwind." 

The Trinity East numbers don't reflect the release of greenhouse gas pollution either, which could be enormous from a facility the size of the refinery being proposed. Gas processing plants can release 20 to 80,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year. By comparison, the entire inventory of greenhouse pollution from all Dallas industrial sources in 2005 was 25,000 tons a year.

None of this information was brought up at the December 20th CPC hearing on the Elm Fork permit because the permit request in its current form was only a couple of weeks old when it went to the CPC and the compressors were a last-minute addition to an older, pending request.

Citizens were lucky to get a crowd to even show up five days prior to Christmas, and Schermbeck believes no one at Dallas City Hall bothered to notice that one of the so-called drilling permits was a refinery permit.

"Because it had no expertise of its own, and it was ignoring citizens, City Hall was completely reliant on the company's version of what the permit was for, and Trinity East probably didn't want to admit they were stuffing one kind of permit inside of another. The City didn't perform its due diligence. The result is that it's been completely played by the company."

Schermbeck recounted that he could find no one at City Hall who had any idea of how Trinity East arrived at their "25 tons a year" air pollution figure, knew what kind of specific pollutants that tonnage included, or, most importantly, thought it would be good to know this information before the city handed the company a permit to operate an inner-city gas refinery. 

"Mayor Rawlings and the City Manager seem content to give Trinity East a blank check to pollute Dallas air," he said.

A closer look at the refinery site plans also reveals equipment that is fundamentally at odds with the way Trinity East and the gas industry has been portraying what kind of gas Dallas has underneath it. 

Up to now, gas operators have been saying Dallas gas is "dry" and without a lot of extra hydrocarbons found in "wet gas" further west. But the acid gas removal units and Glycol conductors proposed for the Elm Fork refinery are built for wet gas. 

Schermbeck suggests that perhaps either the City has been mislead about the nature of the gas it owns or the nature of the Trinity East site. He theorized that instead of the Dallas refinery being built for dry Dallas gas, it might be aimed at wet gas coming from the west. 

"Dallas would get none of the royalties, but all of the pollution."  


Mad? Go to this link now and send an e-mail to the Dallas City Council and City Plan Commission that says you oppose these gas permits and the "reconsideration" of their denial by the Commission:

Do it Now.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.