Last week, the EPA made an important admission.
"Methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are significantly higher than previous official estimates, according to draft revisions of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions inventory released Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency. At 9.3 million metric tons, revised estimates of 2013 emissions are 27% percent higher than the previous tally. Over a 20-year timeframe, those emissions have the same climate impact as over 200 coal-fired power plants."
This most recent analysis jives with other studies like the one from UTA/EDF that found Barnett Shale facilities leaking up to 50% more methane than previously estimated. In reaction to the information, EPA Chief Administrator Gina McCarthy was quoted as saying "we need to do more" to cut methane pollution.
In its last year in office the Obama administration is finally grasping that natural gas isn't the climate change wunderkind its promoters claimed and last week's announcement is the tacit admission they need to do more to crack down on oil and gas.
What has that got to do with DFW in 2016?
By Spring, the Regional office of the EPA is expected to announce that it has rejected the State's clean air plan for DFW in regard to its application of "Reasonably Available Control Technology." That means the state hasn't required the application of readily-available air pollution controls for major sources the way the Clean Air Act demands. Specifically, EPA staff have cited the failure of the state to lower the emission standards for the Midlothian cement kilns to reflect more modern technology. But it's not the only area where Texas fell short. There are no new pollution requirements for any oil and gas facilities in the state's plan either.
EPA rejection of the Technology section of the state's DFW air plan would mean the EPA would begin to draft its own clean air plan for the region. An EPA-drafted plan gives local citizens concerned about the health impacts of fracking an opportunity to persuade the Agency to use the plan to crack down on smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) pollution in the Barnett Shale by requiring lower emission standards on all aspects of drilling and production.
While methane isn't considered a smog pollutant, it doesn't get emitted by itself. It comes out of a stack or valve, or leaks from a pipeline combined with smog-forming VOCs. So the more you control VOC pollution, the more you control methane pollution.
In light of last week's announcement, this gives EPA an extra incentive to go after VOC emissions in DFW even though the conventional wisdom is that it's combustion-generated Nitrogen Oxide pollution that really makes DFW smog so bad.
BTW, that conventional wisdom is under attack because the worst-performing air monitoring sites in North Texas are all in the Barnett Shale and heavily influenced by pollution from oil and gas facilities – both NOX and VOCs. It's possible to imagine a strategy to get smog numbers down in DFW solely by application of oil and gas emission regulations that can impact these important monitors – which drive the entire region's fate – even if the new regs have minimal impact on monitors elsewhere.
What kind of new regulations are we talking about?
* Start with the electrification of all 650 large natural gas compressors in the 10-county area.
* Do the same thing for all drilling rigs in the same 10-county area – nothing but electric.
* Emission standards for tanks and pipelines that reflect the latest leak-detection technology.
Inclusion of new EPA “Control Technique Guidelines" which are part of Agency's new methane rules. According to the Agency's release on the the new rules, “…reduction of VOC emissions will be very beneficial in areas where ozone levels approach or exceed the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone."
Under the new rules, areas like DFW that host large concentrations of gas pollution sources and are officially categorized as “non-attainment” for smog receive "an analysis of the available, cost-effective technologies for controlling VOC emissions from covered oil and gas sources."
There's one more reason EPA has an incentive to go looking for all the cuts in oil and gas pollution it can find in the 10-county DFW non-attainment area: after the cement kilns, there's no other major sources the Agency can target locally.
Because while it has the authority in a federal clean air plan to regulate all pollution sources in that 10-county DFW non-Attainment area, the EPA can't write new emission standards for the East Texas coal plants located 100 miles outside of that 10-county area – even though those coal plants have more of an impact on North Texas smog than any other source of pollution. EPA (and us) can put pressure on the state to address these dinosaurs, but it can't touch them through a DFW air plan.
EPA staff has estimated it will take a cut of 100-200 TONS PER DAY in local smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide pollution for DFW reach the current 75 parts per billion smog standard. The State's "plan" – i.e. the federal gasoline fuel changes it relies on – only represents a 20-40 tons per day cut.
Where do the other 60 -160 tons a day in cuts come from?
To give you some idea of the size of that gap, the state estimates that all on and off road vehicles in the 10-county area will emit 161 tons per day of NOx in 2018.
State-of-the-art controls on all the cement plants might give you up to 15 tons a day. Electrification of the large compressors, another 15-16 tons per day eventually. After that it gets hard to find large volumes of cuts without the coal plants. And this is why the EPA should give cuts in VOC/methane a longer look than they have before – they're concentrated in the same areas where the region's worst-performing monitors are and they represent a huge source of climate change pollution that could also be another skin on the wall in addition to lowering smog levels.
There's no question the passage of HB40 has stymied grassroots progress toward more protective regulation of fracking by municipal governments in the Barnett Shale. It's thrown what was a fairly successful local movement into disarray. To date, there doesn't appear to be any consensus about strategies to combat the effects of the legislation.
But a way to outflank some of the impacts of HB 40 coming is coming down the pike, and it offers local fracktivists an opportunity to rally round a common, achievable goal – lowering emission levels across the board in the Barnett Shale. We can overlay a larger, stricter regional template for oil and gas regulation in place of 100 separate municipal ones.
What better way to nullify the efforts of the nullifiers in Austin?
This plan won't work.
That's the simple message from the three pages of new comments Region 6 EPA staff submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality last month concerning its anti-smog plan for DFW.
That message begins with the cover letter, written by Mary Stanton, Chief of the State Implementation Plan Section for Region 6. "… additional local and regional ozone precursor emission reductions will be necessary to reach attainment by 2017."
How much in reductions? EPA estimates an additional 100-200 tons per day more in cuts of smog-forming pollution will be necessary to achieve compliance with the current 75 parts per billion ozone standard. "Without emission reductions on this scale, it is unlikely that the area will attain by the attainment date.”
To give you some idea of how large a number that is, TCEQ calculates that all gas and oil air pollution in DFW equals 78 tons per day, the Midlothian cement plants belch out over 18 tons per day, and all the power plants in the immediate DFW area, 21 tons per day. Totaled, those three sources add up to 117 tons of pollution a year.
All the cars and trucks on DFW roads are said to add up to 180 tons per day of pollution.
So the decrease in pollution EPA is saying is necessary to get down to the current ozone standard is huge.
But take a look at those obsolete East Texas coal plants outside the boundaries the DFW nonattainment area. TCEQ says they account for a total of 146 tons per day. Add Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) which can get you up to 90% reductions in coal plant emissions, or close them down completely, add decreases from new controls on the cement kilns and oil and gas sources, and you're well on your way to amassing 200 tons a day of cuts in pollution.
Which do you think is more attractive to most DFW residents: permanently parking their cars, or putting new controls on the coal plants? Even though the coal plants harm the whole DFW airshed more than any other major source, they're not held accountable to the same regulatory requirements as sources closer to the center of the urban core, but which have less impact. Our cars must have special gasoline formulas in summer, we have to have HOV lanes, and we still go through Ozone Action Days, but the coal plants party like it's 1979. TCEQ is taking a hands-off approach to the plants and as a result the DFW region will continue to be in violation of the smog standard or huge cuts from other sources will be necessary.
TCEQ could have added new controls to the coal plants to the plan, but it chose not to. In fact, there are no new controls in the state's plan on any major sources of air pollution affecting DFW. EPA's new comments go to the heart of that choice. "Without additional emission reduction measures, we don’t see how the area will meet the standard of 75 ppb by the end of the 2017 ozone season," writes EPA staff.
EPA goes on to say TCEQ's computer modeling supporting it's do-nothing plan is "unrealistic," severely underestimating future smog levels, and delivering projections of decreases "that seem unlikely to be reached."
With this stance, EPA seems poised to reject this "attainment demonstration" part of the air plan as being insufficient. But it must wait to see how TCEQ responds to EPA comments about its modeling shortcomings and need for new cuts when the state officially submits its plan this July. Then, and ony then can the Agency approve or disapprove. We're going out on a limb here and predicting TCEQ won't change a thing, thus inviting EPA disapproval.
That's the pattern TCEQ has already established with its "screw you" response to the EPA's comments about the part of the plan dealing with "Reasonably Available Control Technology," or RACT, last February. This second part decides what new controls should be required of major sources of air pollution within the 10-County DFW "non-attainment" area – like the Midlothian cement plants and the thousands of oil and gas facilities checkerboarding the western half of the Metromess.
TCEQ says nothing new is required. EPA disagrees. EPA told TCEQ last year it had to do a new RACT review and lower the kiln's emission limits to account for a new generation of technology or it would have to reject the state's plan. TCEQ ignored the request, daring the EPA to disapprove. EPA seems more than willing to take them up on the offer.
And so while you're waiting for the state's computer modeling and suspect math to be rejected by EPA in July, you can probably expect to see EPA officially rejecting the RACT part of the state's plan sooner – maybe as soon as the next 60-90 days.
Despite the TCEQ going out of its way to submit an unacceptable plan to EPA, if the Agency pulls the trigger and begins a federal takeover of the DFW air plan, the Commission and the whole of Texas State Government will cry bloody murder about the usurpation of the state's authority and once again proclaim how "out of control" the EPA is on their way to filing suit.
This is why the rowdy eruption of public sentiment for an EPA plan at the hearing in Arlington two weeks ago was so critical (Thank you again). It's also why we now have to be about the business of getting DFW local governments, hospitals and school districts to pass resolutions in favor of an EPA takeover. The Agency will need this kind of public support to counter all the criticism it will take from the Usual Suspects in Austin and DC. If you're interested in helping us pass one of these resolutions in your county, city, school or hospital district, please let us know at: email@example.com
And as always, it's why you, and people you know should:
Jim Schutze at the Dallas Observer came across an interesting piece of video the other day. It was the deposition of former Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm in the on-going lawsuit between jilted gas driller Trinity East and the City.
In their cross-examination, lawyers for Trinity East are asking Suhm about a secret (at least to the Council and the public) 2008 Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties trading Special Use Permits for gas drilling and production sites the company wanted to access on City-owned flood plain and park land – despite prohibitions on drilling in those places at the time of the agreement – in return for $19 million in upfront leasing payments.
Trinity East's lawyers want Suhm to say the agreement "guaranteed" the permits, and when the Plan Commission subsequently voted to deny them, and the City Council lacked the super-majority to override that denial, the City, by way of its agent in this matter Mary Suhm, defaulted on the agreement.
City of Dallas lawyers want Suhm to say Trinity East executives knew the drilling sites were off-limits at the time they signed the memo and, despite paying the City of Dallas $19 million before they got their permits, the company knew it was not a sure thing. According to the City's lawyers, what Trinity got was precisely what Suhm promised in the agreement: her best efforts to maneuver the company's permits through City Hall bureaucracy.
The crux of this back and forth comes at about the 4:30 point of the five minute video when Trinity East's lawyer, on behalf of his client, asks, "What is it they get for their $19 million dollars?"
Suhm says Trinity East "got the right to apply" for SUP permits.
But those permits cost considerably less than $19 million. What was Trinity East really paying for with those leasing checks, and did they get their money's worth?
Allow us to defend Mary Suhm.
When Trinity East wrote those checks, Suhm was riding high as City Manager and her command over Council affairs was already legend, especially as she negotiated the city budget through very tight times. Trinity knew the signature of a mere elected official was not sufficient. Those come and go at City Hall with hardly anyone noticing. It wanted the boss's John Hancock on the document and the boss was Mary Suhm.
Besides a perfectly legal and hefty bribe when the City needed it during the Great Recession, Trinity was investing in the power of Mary Suhm and her relationships with the Powers-That-Be. The company had every confidence as the ring master of the downtown circus, Suhm could make things happen that otherwise wouldn't happen. She was in control.
Trinity East wasn't wrong – in 2008. Had they pursued their permit requests in the next one to three years, there's every likelihood Trinity East would have received them.
But the company waited until 2011.
What had happened in those intervening three years?
There was a drilling backlash beginning to reach full volume in the Barnett Shale, aided by a new national awareness of fracking as it spread to other parts of the country. Josh Fox's "Gasland" came out in 2010 and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2011. Burning tap water replaced a folksy Tommy Lee Jones as the face of gas drilling in North Texas. Citizen groups were sprouting in every city with drilling fighting for larger buffer zones and more pollution controls. There were stories in the media all the time. Because no health or environmental studies had been done on urban fracking, all kinds of new ones were launched or just being reported on for the first time.
In light of the new controversy, Councilwoman Angela Hunt helped drive the City to convene a gas drilling task force, giving residents a chance to organize around the issue before Trinity East even applied for their permits. Every concern – air, water, even earthquakes – that would later become ammunition for opponents showed up in this task force process first.
Scott Griggs ran for Dallas City Council from one of the districts targeted by new gas drilling permits and won on an anti-drilling platform against an incumbent. He joined Hunt as a fierce critic of Dallas urban drilling. Neighborhoods were showing new muscle.
And so the stage was set for more of an uphill fight than what Trinity probably would have confronted in 2010.
Mary Suhm must have taken note of some of this and sighed when Trinity finally put in for its permits. Now they show-up?
Still, let the record show she put on a stiff upper lip and gave 110% to the cause of getting Dallas City Hall to approve Trinity East's permits. She contorted bureaucracies. She muscled appointees and council members alike. She and her staff worked overtime to try to subvert every move of the growing opposition to Trinity East's permits. When the company lost, it wasn't because Mary Suhm didn't pull out all the stops, but despite the fact she did.
Now, we're pretty sure this is a defense the City of Dallas lawyers don't want to use, but we offer it up here in case they need to break the glass and begin building firebreaks in court to keep from paying back the $19 million.
These are only the most egregious examples residents know about.
2011 Gas Drilling Task Force
In retrospect, it's easy to see Suhm's manipulation behind the last-minute Task Force endorsements of park and flood plain drilling. And when we say last-minute, we mean it.
Task Force members had already voted to keep the prohibition against drilling in these areas at a previous business meeting. The last meeting of the Task Force was supposed to be a pro forma affair that would ratify all previous recommendations and send them along to Council. Task Force member attendance was therefore down. This is when Task Force Chairwoman and former city council member Lois Finkelman chose to spring new votes on these two issues – and these two issues only – and won a reversal on each. Not only of the Task Force positions – but of current city policy, which of course didn't allow drilling in either area then.
Many excuses were used to justify this re-examination and re-vote that day, but none of them were the truth. Finkelman and staff were doing Suhm's bidding, and she was looking out for Trinity East. While it's not clear if Finkelman knew about Suhm's secret agreement, you can be sure Suhm, or someone on her behalf, made it clear to Finkelman it was VERY important to get these exemptions. Finkelman had been a friend to the clean air movement and other environmental causes during her tenure on the Council in the 1990's, but caved because of her relationship with Suhm, a belief she was helping the City out of a jam, or some other reason. At the end of the day, she weakened proposed city policy in accordance with what Trinity East wanted.
This is certainly something Trinity East got for its $19 million.
2012 Xmas Plan Commission Hearing on Trinity East Permits
Scheduled on December 20th, 2012, this was the first time gas drilling permits had been voted on for Dallas in three years, or pre-national outrage. It occurred before the Task Force recommendations had been considered and adopted into policy. In other words, after a call to reform its outdated drilling ordinance, and after a special Task Force had already been convened and issued its recommendations, Dallas was now about to grant three new permits, including one for a compressor station and refinery, under the old ordinance it was trying to replace. What was the rush? Why not wait and approve new permits until after the Task Force recommendations are written into a new ordinance? Because that would cause further public debate. More debate would highlight the problems of drilling in sensitive areas like park land and flood plains – still off limits in Dallas at the time.
In a transparent attempt to limit public awareness and participation even more, the City decided to hold this important hearing only five days before Christmas. Again, in retrospect, this has Mary Suhm's fingerprints all over it. And it almost worked. But just enough citizens showed up, representing enough well known groups and neighborhood organizations, and citing just enough new facts that had changed the situation since 2008 to win the climatic vote, 7 to 5 at 7:30 pm that evening. It was uncertain which way the decision would go right up until the very end.
Showing-up expecting to lose, instead citizens were elated. Overturning the denial would take a super majority of 12 votes on the Council – something that even then seemed unlikely. Citizens thought they had won. Mary Suhm had tried her best to rig the system, but the rigging failed. She tried again.
January- February 2013 Plan Commission "Reconsideration Vote" on Previous Permit Denial
Because she'd lost the December Plan Commission vote and knew she might not be able to get the 12 votes on the Council to overturn, Suhm had to do something creative. Viola! The Plan Commission would have a vote to "reconsider" their denial of Trinity East's permits only 21 days earlier. Nobody could remember the last time the Plan Commission even took such a vote. It was unprecedented. It was also Mary Suhm's handiwork.
That do-over decision came at a "special meeting" of the Plan Commission on January 10th, with a 6 to 5 vote to indeed take another vote on Trinity East's permits. This outcome, done under heavy police presence and with no public participation allowed, spurred one of the most iconic moments at Dallas City Hall in recent years – a 3 to five minute spontaneous standing crowd chant of "Shame."
You can see the speed at which Suhm is moving behind the scenes to engineer a better outcome after her unexpected defeat before Christmas. She's doing exactly what she promised Trinity East she would do. She's working the levers. Making things happen that would never otherwise happen. But now, it's costing her more to do so. The contortions of the system necessary to get the permits through are getting more twisted and harder to pull off gracefully. She's gone from talks with friends behind closed doors to forcing awkward "do-over" votes. It was obvious to the public there was something special about these Trinity East permits. Company officials had been dropping hints about some sort of an agreement with the City. Mayor Rawlings said permitting these sites "were a done deal" – although he didn't say why. It was getting messy.
Finally, on February 7th, the day the Plan Commission had scheduled the "do-over" vote, the Dallas Observer broke the story on the Suhm-Trinity East agreement. It was now clear what was driving the favoritism behind the treatment of the Trinity East permits by City Hall – going all the way back to the last-minute reversal of the Task Force, to the Christmas time hearing, to the pending "reconsider vote."
The timing could not have been worse for Suhm. We'll never know what the vote to reconsider might have been were there no headlines pointing to a City Hall cover-up. She may have thought she had the votes to keep the Trinity East permits alive. But with the story breaking that very day, the spotlight was too bright on the Plan Commission to take a new vote. Citizens won a reprieve and eventually a victory as the Commission requested the City Council deal with changing the current prohibitions against parkland and floodplain drilling before asking them to violate current ordinances again. That never happened. Instead, the three Trinity East permits were again denied by the Plan Commission in March 2013, albeit by razor-thin 8 to 7 and 9 to 6 margins.
And that was that. Suhm was gone in four months. Officially it wasn't because of the cover-up of the Trinity East agreement, but of course everyone knew it was because the whole thing was headed to court one way or the other.
Although the Mayor tried to rally 12 votes on the Council to overturn, he couldn't do it. The prospect of the kind of rolicking citizen protests keeping the Plan Commission on the 6 o'clock news showing up at a Council Meetings could not have helped his cause at this point.
Urban fracking opponent Philip Kingston had replaced Hunt on the Council, Griggs was still there, and they were joined by enough other council members (Sandy Greyson, Monica Alonzo, Carolyn Davis, and Adam Medrano) to insure the Plan Commission vote would prevail.
At the end of the day, Trinity East walked away empty-handed. but make no mistake about it. Mary Suhm did all she could to subvert the system for Trinity East.
Had the Dallas Observer not revealed the secret agreement, she might have even won the day for the company and still be City Manager. Was it $19 million worth of subversion? At today's inflated rates, who knows? But other than funding a small army and declaring herself dictator of the Drilling Republic of Dallas, she did all she could.
If you're Trinity East you can complain about the outcome, but you can't complain about her effort. There were too many variables out of her control for once. Not the least of which was a vigorous, rowdy, neighborhood-based movement against urban fracking in Dallas that was taking the fight to the public square…and winning. Sometimes, even the most powerful City Manager is on the wrong side of history.
Those were not your father's treehuggers that showed up in Arlington last night.
Over 100 people, including 36 speakers over three hours, provided perhaps the angriest, and certainly the most profanity-laced evening of testimony ever heard in the two-decade history of state public hearings on DFW's dirty air. It's as if frustration over the last 20 years of State failures had finally found a cathartic, public release.
For the most part, speakers from communities across North Texas ignored the State and spoke directly to representatives of EPA, pleading for the Agency to take air quality planning out of the hands of a hostile Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
But when many speakers did address the State's efforts, they didn't parse any words – at least any words that can be printed in a family newspaper, or this blog. For the first time anyone can recall, f-bombs were hurled at TCEQ over its failure to take North Texas bad air seriously. Dallasite Gary Stuard set the tone for the event early on by saying it was time for residents "to quit being so polite" about their systematic poisoning. His message was taken to heart by many of the speakers that followed.
Old, young, male, female, Black, White, Latino, mainstream group, neighborhood group, Elected officials, students, business owners, doctors, asthma suffers, parents of asthma suffers, people concerned about climate change, about fracking, about coal plant pollution, about cement kilns – it didn't matter. Not a single speaker spoke in favor of the State's plan of doing nothing about rising smog levels.
Seizing on the day's headlines, Lance Irwin from Mansfield was the first, but not last person to compare the official neglect over lead in Flint, Michigan's water supply to pollution in DFW's air supply. Arlington residents spoke – and in one instance, sung – movingly about fracking contamination making their neighborhoods unlivable. More than one testimony was dedicated to a friend or relative who'd died from a lung disease. Equal parts despair and anger.
By the time the final speakers finished, it felt more like a church revival. The Church of the Unredeemed State Agency. When was the last time you heard people say they had "fun" at a pro forma public hearing?
To be sure, more traditional voices and statements were in full force. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson sent a staff member urging the State to redo its plan. Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniel sent her aide to talk about the need to control coal plant pollution in the plan. Dallas City Councilwoman Sandy Greyson spoke for the need to grab this opportunity to make progress. Dr. Robert Haley of the Dallas County Medical Society and UT-SW did an excellent job of summarizing his recent study on the public health and economic costs of DFW smog and speaking to the Texas Medical Society resolution against the state plan. Rita Vinson, newly elected President of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhood Associations read a unanimous resolution passed by her group only the day before, calling for EPA to reject the plan. Lots of speakers recounted the long and winding road leading up to the current fact that DFW now has worse smog than Houston.
But it was the tossing aside of business meeting protocol and the pretense that the State had any interest in being there that made this a milestone event. Veterans of past hearings talked about how tired they were of repeating themselves. Newcomers couldn't understand how a State government that doesn't think smog is bad for you can write an effective anti-smog plan. Dentonites were rightfully resentful of seeing a plan that does nothing about smog from oil and gas sources being promoted by the same government that stole its municipal rights to regulate it themselves. Coarseness in language reflected rawness of feelings over yet another Texas attempt to undermine the EPA.
Although the weather was nasty, the major obstacle organizers faced yesterday was understandable skepticism about what good it would do to go to another useless TCEQ hearing. The answer was the need to provide EPA with political support to prepare for a federal takeover. That happened. Big Time. For three solid hours.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the worst public ass-kicking the TCEQ has ever received in DFW.
EPA sent three staff members, including those in charge of reviewing and commenting on the State plan. They took notes. We'll get to see what the Agency thinks about this "new" plan within the next three weeks after the comment period closes and its written review becomes part of the public record.
After that, it should be a relatively short time before EPA decides to officially reject the part of the plan dealing with new controls in the 10-County "non-attainment area" – the part the State didn't do even after EPA asked TCEQ to, and explicitly told the Commission it would reject the plan unless it did.
It will take EPA longer, perhaps until the end of the year, to make a decision about the rest of the plan – the part that relies on computer modeling and estimates of future pollution. It's more technically oriented and there's more nuance than the up or down legal opinion with the control section.
And for citizens?
Send an email to EPA urging them to reject the State's awful air plan for DFW
Sign the CHANGE.ORG petition urging EPA to reject the State's plan
Forward our two-and-a-half minute video to people you know are concerned about air quality – or should be.
Submit written comments on this plan to the TCEQ:
Please reference: "Dallas-Fort Worth Attainment Demonstration for the 2008 Eight-Hour Ozone Nonattainment Area, Project Number 2015-014-SIP-NR"
via the interwebs:
Or by snail mail:
Air Quality Division, TCEQ
P.O. Box 13087
Austin, Texas 78711-3087
And get ready to campaign for resolutions supporting an EPA clean air plan for DFW from your local city council, county government, hospital districts, and school boards. We're all about building support for a federal takeover of our air quality planning between now and the end of the year when EPA is expected to make its final decision. We're coming to a governmental entity near you!
Lots is at stake. We can win the largest improvement in DFW air quality in a decade or wait another five years to try. Thursday night's showing makes clear many of us aren't willing to wait.
Onward Thru the Smog.
Public Hearing on DFW Air
Thursday, January 21st
616 Six Flags Road in Arlington
If you're fighting fracking in your North Texas community, you have few options these days. The State of Texas is not only very not interested in hearing about fracking problems, it just passed a law that makes it illegal for your city to be too interested in hearing from you about those problems as well.
Enter another DFW anti-smog plan. In the past, these plans have been written by Austin and have tired their best to ignore the large volumes of smog-forming pollution from oil and gas sources. This new plan is no different. Left up to the State, there would be no new cuts in pollution from any major industrial source, including the gas industry.
But EPA may not leave it up to the state this time. There are already indications the EPA will reject the State's air plan for DFW as being inadequate and draft one of its own. That would be good news for local anti-fracking activists. Why? Because it could mean cutting lots and lots of different kinds Barnett Shale pollution throughout the region and help shift the costs of its harmful impacts to industry.
That's why if you're concerned about fracking, you owe to yourself to show-up at this Thursday's public hearing and tell the EPA you want them to reject the state's do-nothing air plan and instead implement a "Federal Implementation Plan" to clean up DFW's chronically smoggy air.
The Case For Cutting Oil and Gas Pollution in a DFW Anti-Smog Plan
1. The Oil and Gas Industry is a Large Source of Smog Pollution in North Texas
Look at the chart below for where and in what volumes the State believes smog-forming pollution will be coming from in 2017. The numbers are directly from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's DFW air plan. It's in TONS PER DAY.
Oil and Gas pollution is the fourth largest category of smog pollution in North Texas. It's the fourth largest category for Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) pollution – the kind the State believes is most responsible for DFW smog. It's also the fourth largest source for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), another kind of smog pollution that many of us believe plays a bigger role than the State thinks.
And these are the State's own numbers so you can be sure they're underestimates.
For example, a recent review of studies estimated that the Barnett Shale gas production was leaking up to twice as much climate-damaging methane as the EPA predicts. Methane doesn't escape by itself. If it's leaking, so are smog-forming VOCs that come up with the Methane.
Bottom Line: a huge new category of smog pollution has been created in DFW in just the last 8 years.
2. Oil and Gas Air Pollution is making DFW Smog Worse
Even the State admits that pollution from Barnett Shale industry sources contributes to DFW smog, the only disagreement is by how much.
Take a look at another chart – one that tracks the "average regional" smog level over the decades. Notice the downward trend that stops around 2009, where it continues to hover around 85 ppb? Can you think of anything that began happening in DFW in a big way around 2008-9 that would have stopped that downward trend?
Part of the problem is location. Historically, DFW's worst-performing air monitors, the places where the air quality always seems to be worse at the end of every "ozone action day" are located in the Northwest part of the Metromess – Keller, Grapevine, Denton, and Eagle Mountain Lake. Predominant winds are from the southeast to the northwest in summer time, pushing all of DFW's pollution toward Denton and Wise Counties.
Imagine what happens when you begin to envelope those same northwest areas into the country's largest urban gas field. In 2011, the State estimated that there was more VOC pollution coming from O&G sources in the region than from all the cars and trucks on the road in North Texas at the time.
This impact has not escaped EPA's notice. In official comments filed last February the Agency wrote that those Northwest monitors have not seen their ozone numbers come down as much as other parts of the region and suggest the sea of O&G pollution surrounding them may be the reason.
Thanks to the landmark UNT study that cloned the State's own computer air model for the DFW plan, we know exactly what kind of influence O&G pollution has on those monitors – or at least what the impacts are using the State's underestimated numbers.
If you took away all the estimated 2017 pollution from the Barnett Shale in DFW, you'd see drops in ozone of…
5.4 ppb at the Eagle Mountain Lake air monitor site
5.3 ppb in Keller
4.9 in NW Ft. Worth
3.6 ppb in Denton
These reductions in ozone would be enough to bring all of these DFW air monitor sites into compliance with the current 75 ppb standard, and allow all the sites except Denton to reach the new 70 ppb federal ozone standard more quickly than the deadline of 2025.
Conversely – you can see these numbers as the added smoggy burden the industry is imposing on DFW now. According to the State itself, O&G pollution are raising ozone levels as much as 3 to 5 ppb across large parts of the region.
3. Large Cuts in O&G Pollution = Less Smog in DFW
If oil and gas pollution is a large source of smog pollution, it makes sense that cutting that pollution would lead to less smog. Because of the UNT report, we know how much regional smog would decrease if we took some steps to stop down O&G pollution.
For example, just converting all 647 large gas compressors (point sources) in North Texas from diesel or gas to electricity – something the industry says it can do in areas with air pollution problems – would take over 16 tons of NOx pollution out of the air each and every day and lead to a drop of over 3 ppb at the Eagle Mountain Lake site and between 1 and over 2 ppb at 10 other air monitor sites. That may not sound like much, but it's enough to send most of them into compliance with the current 75 ppb standard. And that's not even accounting for the decrease in Particulate Matter pollution that would accompany such a transition. Because compressors are the industry's largest source of Nitrogen Oxides, they should be a big target for a new EPA air plan for DFW.
VOC pollution could also decrease under an EPA plan. Under the EPA's proposed new methane rules, there are a series of guidelines for controlling the pollutant that would also end-up cutting other smog-forming and toxic VOC pollution as a side-benefit. We're talking Benzene and all the other nasties the human eye can't see coming out of a storage tank or dehydrator.
According to the Agency's release on the the new rules, “…reduction of VOC emissions will be very beneficial in areas where ozone levels approach or exceed the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone." Areas like DFW – for the past two decades.
Under the new rules, areas like DFW that host large concentrations of gas pollution sources and are officially categorized as “non-attainment” for smog, could be the beneficiaries of new EPA-written “Control Technique Guidelines.”
According to EPA, these CTGs “provide an analysis of the available, cost-effective technologies for controlling VOC emissions from covered oil and gas sources. States would have to address these sources as part of state plans for meeting EPA’s ozone health standards.”
EPA gives states two years to include these controls in new air plans. Texas could include them now, in its current air plan, but it doesn't want to.
But if the EPA is writing our air plan instead, then these new VOC controls get put into the mix. Even a 50% cut in VOC emissions from the gas industry means 25 tons a day less air pollution from facilities over a wide area. That's worth fighting for.
If EPA rejects the state plan, it would take up to two years to implement a federal alternative. Even so, is there any other opportunity to cut as much oil and gas pollution in that amount of time? From new fedreal rules? Through local opposition? This is a chance to regionalize the fracking fight and reap large benefits.
Still steamed over HB40? Get mad AND get even.
Help us take the DFW air plan out of the State's hands, and give it to the EPA, where we can advance the cause in a way the state never dreamed of.
Thursday, January 21st
616 Six Flags Road in Arlington
6:30 pm Thursday
616 Six Flags Drive Arlington
When polluters cut smog pollution, they cut a lot of other kinds of pollution as well, including climate-damaging gases like CO2 and methane.
Hundreds of thousands of tons of this kind of pollution could be eliminated in the next air plan for Dallas-Ft. Worth as a result of requiring modern controls on coal plants, cement kilns, and oil and gas sources.
Luminant's Martin Lake coal plant in East Texas is the largest global warming polluter in the country. It released 16.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2012, the equivalent of 3.5 million cars.
Recent studies show facilities in the Barnett Shale Gas Play are leaking 50% to 90% more methane than the government estimates.
We need to cut pollution here, now.
That's why if you care about climate change, you'll want to show-up next Thursday night and speak in favor of the EPA rejecting a State of Texas plan that doesn't require any new cuts in pollution from any source.
Join your earth-hugging peers in calling for a new air plan written by EPA that includes cuts in local smog pollution that can also benefit the entire planet. In as little as two years, you could make a big difference to a big problem.
Think Globally. Act Locally.
Not just a bumper sticker.
When the Ash Grove cement plant in Midlothian modernized its operations to conform with new anti-smog rules and other regulations, it cut approximately 300,000 tons of CO2 pollution – a year. That's just one cement plant.
Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas, and a highly potent greenhouse gas, with over 80 times the 20-year warming power of carbon dioxide.
EPA estimates 750,000 to one million tons of methane is released by equipment leaks every year from facilities in the Barnett Shale, but a recent peer-reviewed study estimated methane emissions in the Barnett Shale may be twice as high as EPA thinks.
There are pending EPA rules to limit methane pollution at natural gas sites that could be rolled into this DFW air plan. Even a 50% cut in leaks in North Texas would mean an annual drop of 400-500,000 tons of climate changing pollution.
A good anti-smog plan from EPA will also put more pressure on the obsolete East Texas coal plants to close.These coal plants are the biggest reasons Texas status is the #1 Greenhouse Gas polluter in the U.S.
The fastest way to cut lots of greenhouse gases in the Belly of the Beast is with a good EPA anti-smog plan for DFW.
Come speak in support of an air plan for our region that would help reduce asthma attacks here, and the melting of glaciers in Greenland.
Thursday, January 21st
616 Six Flags Road in Arlington
First Floor Meeting Room
In late November, a new report by Goldman Sachs came out predicitng “New wind turbines and solar panels worldwide will provide more energy over the next five years than U.S. shale-oil production has over the past five."
“The leading renewable-energy technologies will add the equivalent of 6.2 million barrels of oil a day to the global energy mix, exceeding the 5.7 million barrels a day pumped from U.S. shale oil wells since 2010 …" According to the study, "the biggest shift will occur over the next decade as demand for renewable energy, LED lighting and plug-in vehicles accelerates.”
“Wind and solar are on track to exceed 100 gigawatts in new installations for the first time,’ the authors wrote. "Solar and wind energy are saving a gigaton of carbon dioxide emissions annually and the market for four leading low-carbon technologies is now worth more than $600 billion per year.”
It's possible we're seeing the "Bridge Fuel" run out of road as a new era in power generation gears up.
What: “The Future of Fighting Fracking in Texas”
When: 7-9 pm Thursday, November 5th
Where: Historic Texas Theater in Oak Cliff, 231 West Jefferson
Who: Regional and Statewide Activists, Attorneys and Organizers
(Dallas)— A new alliance of groups fighting for more protective fracking regulation in Texas is using a Dallas environmental conference to host the first statewide strategy session responding to the passage of HB40 by this year’s state legislature.
Dubbing itself the “Texas Grassroots Network,” organizers include key members of local groups in Arlington, Denton, and Mansfield. Since their first meeting during the summer, they’ve also received calls from South Texas residents who live in the Eagle Ford gas and oil field. Their aim is to create something Texas has never had – a statewide coalition of grassroots groups tackling the same industry and the same problems caused by that industry setting up shop too close to people.
On the evening of Thursday, November 5th, they’re taking over Dallas’ historic Texas Theater to begin what they say will be a wide-ranging and free wheeling discussion about what the best options for those who don’t want to live side-by-side with drilling rigs in light of the legislature’s restrictions on local zoning.
“It’s time to regroup and come up new ideas and strategies about how to stop irresponsible fracking,” said Tamera Bounds, of Mansfield Gas Well Awareness. “We need to use our anger of what the legislature did to fuel new efforts and recruit new supporters. Most Texans want local control of fracking. Our job is to build a statewide movement reflecting that.”
“The Future of Fighting Fracking in Texas” is the second featured event of local clean air group’s Downwinders at Risk’s four-day floating conference, called “The Root and Branch Revue.” Other conference events include an evening of “environmental comedy” with Bar Politics, a day of workshops aimed at sharpening activist skills, and an attempt to construct “the world’s largest S.O.S” outside EPA Regional Headquarters in downtown Dallas. Lois Gibbs, of Love Canal fame, is the featured guest.
But it’s Thursday’s panel discussion and a follow-up on Saturday that could potentially have the biggest impact on the Texas environmental movement. Many opponents of urban fracking are still reeling from the state’s ban on local zoning restrictions last spring. There hasn’t yet been a coordinated or articulated response. Organizers of the Texas Theater discussion aim to fix that.
Participating will be some of the most high-profile regional fractivists, including Bounds, who’ll moderate, Adam Briggle and Cathy McMullen from Denton, Ranjana Bhandari form Arlington, and former DISH mayor Calvin Tillman. Joining them onstage on stage will be Public Citizen/Texas staffer Tom “Smitty” Smith, Austin-based environmental attorney Marisa Perales, and Lois Gibbs herself.
“HB 40 has forced us to look beyond our own city limits and find new ways to organize residents,” said Bounds. This public strategy session is one of he first steps we need to do that and regain momentum.”
State officials and industry PR types thought they'd caught a break last summer when two things produced a much lower annual smog average, called a "Design Value."
Since it's a three-year rolling average of smog numbers, past years roll off as new ones come on. Smog numbers from 2011 that had been so high they'd sent the average soaring, were finally rolling off and wouldn't be included in the average.
Second, unusually cooler temperatures and rain kept a new round of numbers lower. Combined, these factors resulted in a significant decrease in the smog average for 2014.
But in 2015, a more typical summer, or at least August, is bringing the average back up (Over 60% of the 100 highest recorded levels of smog this summer occurred in the last 30 days). Smog levels are higher across the board this year than last. There are more monitors recording more "exceedences" of the national smog standard. Leading them all is the Denton monitor, which saw ozone levels rise on Thursday and then skyrocket on Friday. The numbers were so high on both days they moved the needle of the annual smog average, the DFW Design Value, up from 81 to 82 parts per billion (ppb) on Thursday and up to 83 ppb on Friday. The standard is 75 ppb.
Even though Houston has recorded higher smog numbers than DFW this year, 2014's lower smog numbers was even more anomalous for that city than for North Texas. Last year's much lower numbers in the Bayou City are canceling out this year's much higher numbers. So that in 2015, DFW's Denton monitor's annual average of 83 ppb is the highest in the State of Texas.
And that means that according to the official accounting of the Clean Air Act, DFW has dirtier air than Houston. And not for the first time.
It also means we're rolling backwards in terms of air quality progress. With at least a whole month of "ozone season" to go, DFW's smog average is now only a little lower than it was in 2009. It would only take one or two more bad days to raise the average again.
This is the second time in four years that DFW's smog average has increased during the implementation of a state clean air plan for the area. Neither plan required new controls on large industrial polluters significantly contributing to the problem, like the gas industry, East Texas coal plants, and Midlothian cement kilns. There may be some connection there.
Given the state's stellar two decade-old track record of never meeting a clean air plan deadline, its latest plan was always likely to fail. But a federal court roll back of the deadline to get to the 75 ppb standard at all DFW monitors, from 2018 to 2017, plus these new 2015 smog numbers, make it DOA in the real world.
However, in the regulatory world governing these things officially, the plan is still being reviewed by the EPA and, believe it or not, could get approved if citizens don't make a big stink.
Many clean air advocates cautioned that 2014 should be seen as a outlier, and this summer is justifying that caution. If the experts are right, climate change will mean future summers will be more like 2011 than 2014. We've got to have a more realistic approach to the goal of safe and legal air. The State of Texas will not provide that. EPA can.
Hot off the presses, the EPA published notice in this morning's Federal Register that Dallas will be the site of one of only three national public hearings the Agency is hosting concerning its proposed rules designed to reduce methane emissions at new oil and gas indusry facilities.
On September 23rd, from 9 am until 8 pm in the Dallas City Council Chambers, the EPA will be accepting testimony from the public, in five-minute increments. You can register for your five minute slot online at www.epa.gov/airquality/oilandgas/ between now and September 18th.
For metropolitan areas like DFW that host large concentrations of gas pollution sources AND are in violation of the Clean Air Act for their smog pollution, EPA has said that states must address new “Control Technique Guidelines” written by the Agency to reduce missions of Volatile Organic Compounds as part of thier smog-figthing plans for those areas. That's good because its smog-forming VOC pollution like Benzene and Toluene that also makes up some of the most toxic air pollution these facilities can emit. The catch is that the rules give the states a two year grace period.
That means that even though the State of Texas and EPA are wrestling over a clean air plan for DFW right now, and even though one of the major smog-polluting industries in DFW are the 17,000 or so wells, almost 700 large compressors and thousands of other oil and gas facilities in North Texas, those new Control Guidelines will not have to be included in that current plan. But they should be.
If you're going to testify, please be sure to make the request that the EPA and Texas go ahead and include these "VOC CTGs" for non-attainment areas in the current DFW air plan. These are anti-smog measures that are no-brainers in a region which has never been in compliance with the Clean Air Act. And they also mean a total reduction in hazardous air pollution.
For more information about the public hearings, contact Ms. Aimee St. Clair, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (E143–03), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, byphone at (919) 541–1063, or by email at StClair.Aimee@epa.gov.