The green dot is a 1500-foot radius around a medical waste transfer station. The red dots are 1500-foot radiuses around gas wells. The black dots are schools. Guess which dot the City Council and School Board are outraged about?
2nd Reading of Proposed Gas Drilling Ordinance
Mansfield City Council Meeting
Monday Night, March 16th 6:30 pm
City Hall, 1200 E. Broad Street
In the art of slight-of-hand, there's a classic maneuver called misdirection. It's when the trickster forces the attention of an audience to focus on one thing in order to distract its attention from another.
In 2015, the largest, most egregious act of political misdirection in North Texas is taking place in Mansfield. With its 60,000 residents surrounded on all sides by 200 plus gas wells, emitting tons of toxic air pollution in the middle of residential neighborhoods, and next to schools and parks, official outrage is focused on the siting of a single medical waste transfer station that will release…no toxic pollution at all.
Oh, the Redaway transfer station application has lots of salacious wording. It will take in tons of "animal waste, bulk blood, bulk human blood, bulk human body fluids, microbiological waste, pathological waste, sharps, and other health care-related items that come into contact with body fluids and/or blood) and non-hazardous pharmaceuticals." Nasty stuff. But it will take this waste, put it in one of three large steam autoclaves, sterilize it, and ship it out to be buried at municipal solid waste landfills elsewhere. All inside an enclosed structure. This isn't a disposal facility. This isn't an incinerator. It's a place where medical waste comes in, gets Martinized, and then gets shipped back out.
But wait, there's tons of storage and up to 50 trucks a day of come and go traffic. What if this is near a neighborhood or upwind of schools? You'd want this kind of facility far away from people. Like in an area zoned for industrial uses. Which it happens to be located in. The nearest school is over a mile away, the nearest residential neighborhood almost as far.
Yet even this distance is way too close for comfort for the City Council and School Board. They don't even want the transfer station in the city limits. For these officials, there's no setback far enough to be safe from the dangers of escaped body parts. They're outraged. They've passed resolutions condemning the facility. They've even protested to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality!
What exactly is the public health threat posed by the transfer station? It's not air pollution. The steam autoclaves emit so little pollution they aren't even required to have a permit. Nor is it water pollution. Everything drains into the city sewer system. It's the perceived threat of icky stuff like body parts and animal wastes and the accidental contamination from HIV-infected needles that fall off the trucks. In an industrial park. A mile away or more from the nearest school or neighborhood. Behind a fence, inside a building.
Meanwhile there are 206 gas wells strewn throughout the city, emitting half a ton, a ton, or maybe more air pollution a year depending on the age, design and activity. Carcinogens, Mutagens, Endocrine Disrupters. Many of these wells are within 1500 feet of neighborhoods and schools. Some are within 600 feet – the current setback required by the city. Some schools and neighborhoods are within 600 hundred feet of multiple wells. These wells routinely release toxic pollution. These wells pose a threat of accidental release or explosion or fire.
Taking a conservative estimate of half a ton of pollution a year, these 206 current wells could be releasing over 100 tons of air pollution a year. But 300 more are planned too. That's another 150 tons of air pollution. And that's not even counting the compressors, dehydrators, tanks etc. that go along with having that many wells in your town. 250 tons of air pollution is a lot.
So let's review. According to the Mansfield City Council and the Mansfield School Board, even though there are no emissions, and no disposal activity, and it's located in an industrial park, there's absolutely no appropriate distance between the medical waste transfer station and any neighborhood or school in the city. 600 feet, 1500 feet, 5280 feet – it doesn't matter. There is no such thing as a safe buffer zone from this facility. Zero tolerance.
On the other hand, 600 feet is more than a safe distance for proximity of neighborhoods and schools to heavy industrial activity that drills deep holes in the ground, pumps thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into those holes under pressure, forces underground explosions and then tries to contain and process the resulting releases of gas and liquid coming back up through those holes. 600 feet is OK for constant exposure to toxic chemicals at "low levels." 600 feet is an appropriate distance in case of serious accident, because you're only dealing with highly flammable and explosive substances, not gross human blood.
Now, the more cynical among us would claim that this official misdirection is due to the fact that the city, school system, and property owners aren't getting a percentage of the tipping fees for the tons of waste passing through the transfer station the same way they're getting royalties from those hundreds of gas wells. Take the money out of the gas wells and they might not be allowed so close to people. Let the medical waste station cut property owners in on the action, and it too might be welcomed as a jobs creator.
But by any objective test of current and potential threat, gas wells trump the medical waste facility. Just one gas well pumps more pollution into the atmosphere in a year than the transfer station will in a decade.
On Monday night the Mansfield City Council will have its "second reading" for its proposed updating of the town's gas drilling ordinance. Concerned residents will continue to push for longer setbacks from homes and schools than the existing 600-feet the new ordinance reaffirms. They aren't asking to kick gas wells out of the city, the way the city is with the transfer station. They're just asking for the same level of protection afforded other North Texas towns like Dallas, Southlake and Flower Mound.
Setbacks are crucial because they're one of the few proactive measures that can be taken to avoid harm from a gas well or compressor, rather than reacting to it after the fact.
Longer setbacks prevent as many people from being exposed to as as much pollution, both routine and as a result of accidents, leaks and "blowdowns." The more distance there is between people and heavy industry, the fewer risks to public health. Fewer respiratory problems. Fewer nose bleeds. Fewer cancers. Fewer birth defects. Longer setbacks are a reasonable response to the science in 2015.
But the city and school board are holding fast. Zero tolerance for body parts. 600 feet for toxic pollution. That's why it's important for concerned residents to show up on Monday and call BS on this hypocrisy.
During the month long Ebola panic in the U.S., not one citizen died of the disease that dominated the headlines. However, if statistical evidence from the CDC is to be believed, probably close to 600 people died from the flu during those same four weeks. Which was the greater public heath threat?
There is something truly frightening in the medical waste application. It's the breakdown of land use within Mansfield. As it turns out, the city is "28.6% residential , 3.7% commercial, 3.7% industrial and warehouse, 4.9% parks, 4.3% public/semi public, and 13.3% gas wells and rights-of-way." Gas drilling now takes up more land use in Mansfield than all the commercial, industrial and park property combined. With 300 more wells to go, the city is looking more and more like a large industrial park with pockets of residential development instead of the other way around.
But don't worry about that. Be concerned about the building in the corner of the industrial park steam-cleaning blood, needles and body parts.
For almost a year, Mansfield residents have been trying to rewrite their city's drilling ordinance to better reflect the science surrounding the public health consequences of heavy industry taking place so close to people. During this entire time, and countless appearances before their city council, there has not been one Mansfield citizen who came forward and defended the current approach.
But now that the Mansfield council is ready to act on a new ordinance, the gas industry is doing exactly what it's always accusing their opponents of doing, sending outsiders in to invade the town and spread misleading information. And they're doing it in a big, desperate way. Let's just review what's happened in the last couple of weeks:
Industry hired a sleazy push polling firm to conduct a Mansfield campaign by phone that purposely misleads about the impact of the revisions to the ordinance being sought and makes personal attacks on the residents pursuing those revisions.
Sent in trade association speakers from Austin and Fort Worth to Mansfield to further mislead the business community about the revisions being sought.
Set up an e-mail site where industry employees, no matter where they live, send their comments to the Mansfield City Council, in opposition to any revisions.
And last night, (Sunday) the industry released a "study" purporting to show how safe the existing 600 foot setback was in Mansfield.
And these are just the things we know about right now. Having seen the huge multi-well Edge Resources permit get temporarily, but unexpectedly, tabled in January, the industry wasn't about to take any chances on seeing that happening again in their own back yard. So they've thrown everything and the kitchen sink into the Mansfield fight.
Of course, this reaction is a tremendous complement to the efforts of the intrepid Mansfield Gas Well Awareness group, that has, oh who knows, maybe a millionth of the budget the industry has already spent on these efforts. That the gas industry should be so frightened by calls for "responsible drilling" and more protective measures that have numerous precedents in the region tells you all you need to know about their insecurity post-Denton. It's almost comical.
Let's just take the latest effort that the Energy in Depth guys are generously calling a "study." Forget that if an environmental group were offering up such a thing, they'd be the first to point out its obvious bias. But of course, that objection disappears entirely when they fund the results. All of a sudden its a paragon of virtuous objective science. And mind you, these results were funded by the very gas operator who's well emissions are being sampled. No conflict of interest there.
Forget also that they're so proud of this work that they released it on a Sunday, after hours, the day before the Mansfield City Council takes up consideration of a new gas drilling ordinance. It's almost like they wanted to minimize the scrutiny of the thing.
Also put aside that this thing is not peer-reviewed or journal published – because the "science" is so poorly done that it could never pass review and get published in anything but an Energy In Depth blog post.
Also discount the love industry has for for testing levels of contaminants in the air versus its utter contempt for testing people and health. If you're going to claim as your working hypothesis that certain levels of contamination are completely harmless, and that anything that falls below certain levels is benign, then why not put that hypothesis to the test by performing an epidemiological study? But no, you see no such studies coming from industry, because they don't want to test that hypothesis.
One type of study is top, down. It looks at the levels of poisons in the air, and assumes that if they don't exceed the levels deemed dangerous by the regulatory arm of the industry , the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, then everything must be hunky dory.
The other is bottom-up. It looks at the health of people who live adjacent to the facility releasing the poisons and determines whether their health is worse than those who don't live in close proximity to polluters, whether they are receiving officially sanctioned levels of poisons are not.
The reason the second type of study is a truer snapshot of reality is because we keep finding out that levels of poisons we thought were safe turn out not to be safe at all. Go back even 20 years to the Exide lead smelter in Frisco, or 30 years to the RSR lead smelter in Dallas. Regulators and industry were routinely saying that levels of lead being released by these facilities were "safe." As it turns out, they were not. In fact, science now says there's no level of exposure to lead that cannot do harm to a person, particularly a child.
This learning curve can be applied to many, many types of chemical exposures over the last few decades, including Benzene, and other poisons routinely released by the gas industry. And it's why industry never wants to test its hypothesis about "safe" levels of things in the air with studies of what the actual health of people who live near their facilities is really like.
In reality, the best epidemiological studies to date, those that ARE done by third parties and ARE peer-reviewed an journal published, all conclude that living near gas mining operations increases the likelihood that you'll get sick. That's the state of the science. It's the same kind of science that proved cigarette smoking causes cancer. And that's why industry wants to stick to telling you about how safe the levels of poisons are in the air.
But forget all of that. Let's just take this "study" thing at face value. There was a 100 minutes of sampling of the air in 2012 at a gas pad site before drilling started, and in 2014, there were three 30 minute samplings of air around 600 feet away from the pad site after drilling had begun, and one sampling site well away from the pad to function as a background reading. That's it. That's the entirety of the study: the comparison of this "before" and "after" short term sampling.
Now if you were a high school chemistry nerd looking for a shot in the local science fair, you might insist that the procedures and testing protocol be the same for the before and after sampling. And you'd be right. But this study didn't bother.
In 2012, the sampling looked at Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Sulfur Compounds and Formaldehyde "and other Carbonyl Compounds." In 2014, the sampling only looked at VOCs. so, only one-third of the original 2012 testing was duplicated. You'd think they were trying to intentionally ignore some poisons or something.
But it gets better. There were 15 separate VOCs sampled for in 2012, but only six, (less than half and only barely more than a third), of those were sampled for in 2014. In other words, the 2014 sampling not only left out two-thirds of the 2012 contaminant categories, it left out most of the chemicals in the one category it did sample.
In 2012, you had a total of 100 minutes of sampling of air in the middle of the pad site. In 2014, you had three 30-minute samplings of air 600 feet away from the pad site. They couldn't even replicate the sampling time.
As Texas Sharon has already pointed out, you might want to do your sampling with the same general kinds of weather – circumstances that might promise a representative sample. But no, not for this "study." There was only a trace of rain recorded at the site in 2012, but between half an inch of rain and two and a half inches of rain in the 2014 sampling. Of course, rain being in the air and all, that could affect your air sampling results.
The average wind speed was 6 to 11 mph in 2012, while in 2014, it was, well, the second report really doesn't say what the average wind speed was. It just says that the wind speed varied from 0 to 21 along with wind direction. But who needs details for real science right?
In 2014, none of the background samples were the highest levels of exposure found, that is, the highest readings of all chemicals found were downwind of the pad site.
Of the six VOCs sampled for in both 2012, and 2014, three were significantly higher in 2014.
Benzene was almost 4 times higher in 2014: .13 vs .49.
Toluene was almost three times higher in 2014: .35 vs .91.
Methyl Ethyl Ketones increased by a third: from .53 to .72.
And mind you this was in the rain with gusts up to 21 mph. Only m,p Xylene and Carbon Disulfide were lower in 2014.
In all, these chemicals were detected despite the crappy methodology used:
- Benzene, 1,2,4‐trimethyl‐
- Benzene, 1,3,5‐trimethyl‐
- Benzene, 1,3‐dichloro‐
- Benzene, 1,4‐dichloro‐
- Carbon disulfide
- Carbon Tetrachloride
- Ethane, 1,1,2,2‐tetrachloro‐
- Ethane, 1,1,2‐trichloro‐1,2,2‐trifluoro‐ (Freon 113)
- Furan, tetrahydro‐
- Methyl Butyl Ketone (MBK)
- Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK)
- Methyl Isobutyl Ketone (MIBK)
- Methyl Methacrylate
- Methylene Chloride
- Trichloromonofluoromethane (Freon 11)
That's reassuring right? That's what the industry folks are saying, because guess what, they're all at levels below what TCEQ says are OK for you to breathe – for a total of 30 minutes per sample. Unfortunately, most of us have a hard time breaking our habit of breathing all the time. Everyday. For years on end.
Look, you don't need to be a scientist to know how full of holes this slap dash attempt at CYA actually is. Industry is just throwing one thing after another up on the wall and hoping it sticks for the time it takes for the Mansfield City Council to justify its rejection of the citizens' revisions. Especially the 1500 setback originally requested.
Industry keeps saying that this distance amounts to a "defacto" ban of drilling, but that's clearly not the case in Mansfield. It's own literature touts the fact that a rig can be more than a mile away from the gas deposit its mining. You can put a rig in an industrial zoning tract and still reach a pocket of gas underneath a neighborhood without the surface components being anywhere near each other.
So what's the real reason industry oppose these setbacks for heavy industry that would be more than appropriate for any other kind of heavy industry? It's because the gas industry doesn't want to be grouped with lead smelters, and cement plants, and refineries and other kinds of heavy industry. It operates under an industrial exceptionalism that's unique in the modern era. It wants to be viewed as the kindly, well-landscaped heavy industrial polluter. Because when you start seeing it differently, all the carefully-constructed mythology surrounding its operations becomes transparent – just like it did with lead smelters, cement plants and refineries.
Because of its massive infusions of cash and resources overwhelming Mansfield in the last couple of weeks, the industry may indeed forestall the inevitable a little longer in what it considers a jurisdiction that's bought and paid for several times over. But science marches on – the real sort – and it's not going to be very kind to this industry in the longer run. Even the Marlboro Man had to hang up his spurs. It's just a matter of time before this industry is viewed as just another nasty polluting cause of illness, even by those who've benefited from it the most.
(Mansfield) — Residents in this Fort Worth suburb seeking a more modern approach to gas industry regulation seemed to have hit a raw Barnett Shale nerve.
A decision last month by the city council to postpone permitting of a giant new multi-well and compressor facility in Mansfield, pending development of a new gas ordinance, has spurred the largest and most expensive industry PR offensive since the fight over the Denton fracking ban vote last November, including a city wide “push polling” campaign that contain ad hominem attacks on local advocates.
“I guess we should be flattered that our efforts have attracted so much attention from the national gas organizations,” said Tamera Bounds, one of the targets of the industry’s efforts. “But the fact is, this is a matter for Mansfield residents, and over the course of the last nine months as we’ve been working with the city council on drafting a new drilling ordinance, to our knowledge not one Mansfield resident has addressed the council in favor of the old ordinance. Now, at the last minute, these national trade groups show up and pretend their speaking on behalf of our local interests. They aren’t.”
Although Bounds group began meeting in June 2014, and a city wide forum on a new gas ordinance was held in December, it’s the unanimous January 26th tabling of Edge Resources’ huge, 34 well, compressor, dehydrator, and storage tank complex by the Mansfield city council on its third and final reading that apparently has the industry worried they’re losing their influence in a town so deep in the Barnett Shale.
On the eve of the first reading of the newly drafted ordinance this coming Monday, Mansfield residents are getting calls from a number registered to The Woodlands-based Promark firm asking them to take part in its “survey” on Mansfield drilling issues. Promark is a notoriously partisan company with a pockmarked reputation. In 2004, Promark’s polling tactics were investigated by the American Association of Public Opinion Research for unethical polling practices. According to the AAPOR, push polls are “an insidious form of negative campaigning, disguised as a political poll. 'Push polls' are not surveys at all, but rather unethical political telemarketing — telephone calls disguised as research that aim to persuade large numbers of voters and affect election outcomes, rather than measure opinions.”
That certainly describes the line of attacks that were posed as questions asked during the company’s Mansfield calls, including “If the ordinances are passed, did you know that the City taxes could be raised? Knowing this, would you support a new ordinance?” and “If ordinances are passed, did you know that schools would loose a lot of funding? Did you know that property taxes will go up?”
Despite these scare tactics disguised as a “survey,” no part of the ordinance would affect current facilities. It’s aimed only at new permits. Residents have requested better monitoring and enforcement as well as a more protective 1500-foot setback from homes, schools and other “protected uses” to replace the 600-foot setback requirement established in 2008.
Perhaps most disturbing are the personal nature of some of the push polling questions. For example it asks whether respondents “agree that the clean air activists are a nuisance to the city?” and then whether Mansfield Gas Well Awareness Group leader Bounds is “credible, somewhat credible, or not credible”
Besides Promark’s push polling, which no trade group has yet claimed responsibility for, industry representatives are also suddenly showing up in Mansfield trying to drum up supporters among the local business community.
This Friday, Austin-based Luke Legate of the “Joint Association of Oil and Gas Education Initiative” is speaking to the Mansfield Business Association. The Initiative is a state wide industry trade group alliance that includes the Texas Oil & Gas Association, Texas Royalty Council, Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, Panhandle Producers and Royalty Owners Association, Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, Foundation for Energy Education, Texas Pipeline Association, Permian Basin Petroleum Association, and the South Texas Energy & Economic Roundtable. He’s never appeared before the Mansfield City Council.
Next Thursday, it’s Ed Ireland, Director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council speaking to the entire Mansfield Chamber of Commerce at the Walnut Creek Country Club. The BSEEC describes itself as “founded by consortium of leading Barnett Shale production companies.” He was invited to the December forum that kicked-off the review of the new ordinance, but has not appeared at any of the regularly scheduled council meetings where gas was a topic since then.
“What’s ironic is that these are the very groups that rush to claim that “outsiders” are somehow responsible for stirring up local residents concerns, when it’s actually the industry’s own poor track record on the ground that’s promoting our activism,” said Erik Orsak, another Mansfield citizen leader of Mansfield Gas Well Awareness. “After months of good-faith negotiations between the city and concerned residents, we see this last-minute massive top-down wave of attacks by national trade groups invading Mansfield without any previous local support in an a attempt to try and undermine that process. It’s these industry groups that are the outsiders.”
Monday’s city council meeting will feature the “first reading” of a proposed ordinance and include a public hearing on its contents. While Mansfield Gas Well Awareness members say they’ve been pleased with the progress on some issues of concern to them, two of the most important, reducing harmful emissions and longer setbacks, have not been resolved to their satisfaction. Last month, they reminded the city council that Mansfield officials originally called for 1000 foot setbacks in 2008, but those got reduced after intense industry lobbying.
In fact it was the owners of Edge Resources, the same company some residents think is behind this wave of new industry lobbying after their permit was temporarily tabled in January, that wrote in an April 2008 letter to the Mansfield Planning and Zoning Commission and suggested that schools should have shorter setbacks “because children are very mobile.”
“It would be a shame if Mansfield were to make the same mistake twice based on industry bullying” said Lance Irwin, a Mansfield Gas Well Awareness member and a frequent critic of the industry’s operation in town. “Mansfield’s future is its children, its schools and its neighborhoods. We need to protect them as best we can.”
Monday’s city council meeting begins at 6:30 pm at Mansfield City Hall, 1200 East Broad Street
There was at least one truth uttered by Steve Everley, the professional PR spokesperson for Energy in Depth, itself the PR arm of the Gas Industry, during his testimony at last Thursday's EPA ozone standard hearing in Arlington:
"…natural gas producers will be significantly impacted by EPA’s proposal to reduce the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone from 75 parts per billion to between 65 and 70 ppb."
Indeed. At the rate things are going in Austin and DC, it might be the only thing to impact the industry's large emissions of pollution for many years to come. Left unsaid by Everley was why the industry would be impacted by such a lower ozone standard – because in many parts of the country now, including the DFW area, smog-forming pollution from the gas industry is contributing significantly to higher ozone levels.
Even the governmental affairs branch of the gas industry, otherwise known as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, admits that facilities like compressors, storage tanks, pipelines, and de-hydrators found by the thousands in the western part of the Metromess contribute more smog-forming Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) than all the "on-road" vehicles in North Texas combined. This is true not only at the present time, but will be true at least three years into the future, according to TCEQ's own estimates.
Gas facilities also account for the third largest source of smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide pollution in DFW, according to TCEQ numbers included in their recent air plan submitted to EPA – only a ton per day less than all "non-road" vehicles in North Texas like construction equipment, and well ahead of "point sources" like the Midlothian cement kilns and local power plants.
In all, TCEQ predicts that 35,335 tons per year of smog-forming pollution will still be coming from the region's gas industry in 2018. That's a lot. It's so much that, as the TCEQ also demonstrates with its computer modeling, even a tweak here and there in gas pollution estimates can make big differences in the levels of ozone at monitors in places like Denton and Keller and Eagle Mountain Lake – traditionally the worst-performing air quality monitors in North Texas.
And that's why a lower ozone standard is a threat to the industry. The very air quality monitors the industry affects most with its pollution are the ones driving the region's high smog levels. Lowering the ozone standard means it would have to spend money to reduce those emissions significantly. It means it would have to spend money to prevent the kind of huge "accidental" releases of smog-forming pollution released by the Mansfield compressor on Thursday even while Steve Everley was testifying to EPA.
After giving her own testimony to EPA on Thursday morning, Earthworks' Sharon Wilson and Mansfield Gas Well Awareness board member Lance Irwin headed out to the Summit Midstream Partners Compressor Station behind Mansfield's Performing Arts Center, with an infrared, or FLIR "thermal imaging" camera. Such a device is capable of recording the kinds of VOC emissions that are often smelled and inhaled by surrounding residents, but can't be seen with the naked eye.
The Summit compressor and the two nearby Eagleridge gas wells have been the scene of many different complaints from the surrounding Mansfield neighborhood – everything from airborne foam landing in backyards to oily deposits landing on car finishes. On Thursday, Wilson and Irwin were responding to a new series of complaints about awful smells. When they showed up, what the two recorded was a massive "emergency blowdown" (versus the "planned" kind). While filming the event, Wilson suffered health effects familiar to gas facility neighbors and was overwhelmed by the obvious hydrocarbon fumes. Once you see her video, you understand why:
Such a blowdown was exactly what Lance Irwin had warned the Mansfield City Council about only three days before, during comments directed at slowing down or denying the permit for a new compressor, 34 wells, 12 tanks and a assortment of other facilities at an Edge pad site near Debbie Lane in town. He pointed out that industry and government estimates about emissions never take these kind of catastrophic events into account – form a short-term toxic exposure perspective, or as it turns out, from an air quality, smog-creating perspective. And he's right.
In this regard, these kinds of accidents are no different than the infamous industrial "burps" from refineries and chemical plants along the Houston Ship Channel that lead to smog spikes downwind. There are 650 large compressor stations in the DFW "non-attainment" area. How many are experiencing blowdowns on any given day? How many are affecting ozone levels in the spring and summer? The TCEQ estimates included in its DFW air plan don't even try to quanify them.
Because gas facilities like compressors are subject only to "standard permits," are located diffusely around a region, and don't officially emit a de minimus amount of air pollution, they're not subject to the federal rule of off-setting. That's when a new polluting facility locates in an already smoggy area like DFW and has to pay to cut smog pollution elsewhere if it wants to emit the stuff itself. If a new cement plant or power plant were to locate in DFW, it would have to pay to reduce a ton and a half of smog-forming pollution for every ton it wanted to release. Gas facilities don't have to do this – even though collectively they emit more smog-forming pollution than all the cement plants and power plant in the non-attainment area!
EPA has tried to argue that a company's different facilities are all tied together and should be counted as a single source, and so subject to off-setting regulations. But the courts have ruled against them.
Rising gas industry pollution and the absence of any official brake on its growth like off-setting is a large reason, maybe the primary reason, why DFW hasn't seen the kind of air quality progress it should have by now. Until this last summer's cooler and wetter weather gave us relief, ozone levels had been stagnating or even rising since 2009 – or about the time the industry invaded North Texas in large numbers. There's no question that had the Barnett Shale boom not happened, we'd have much cleaner air by now.
But it did and we don't. And so that's why a lower ozone standard is perhaps the only way that the gas industry will ever be forced to clean-up its act – especially on the widespread regional level we require to get to safe and legal air. Just like it has with the Midlothian cement plants, the need for lower smog levels can force the state's and industry's to act to add controls. It's a long-term fight, but one of the only paths to across-the-board change versus the city-by-city slog activists have had to rely on.
National Resources Defense Council lawyer John Walke has a great takedown of Steve Everley's spin on Thursday. And the tireless cross-country DeSmogblog reporter and photographer Julie Dermansky has a good read on the Mansfield fight that you should check out. But the most compelling rebuttal to both industry PR and local governments who want to ignore their own responsibility in this mess is probably Wilson and Irwin's two and a half minutes of video.
Something strange happened on the way to losing the battle in order to win the war. The battle was won. At least for now.
It wasn't a permit denial. It wasn't a ban. It wasn't even a new ordinance. But the Mansfield Gas Well Awareness group pulled off their first significant victory at the council level Monday night when a third and final reading of a new 34 multi-well pad site, plus compressor, plus storage tanks, plus dehydrators, plus re-boilers, plus separators, gas-industrial-complex that seemed like a done deal only 30 days ago was unanimously tabled until new rules for drilling in the city are put in place later this year.
Edge Resources' original Special Use Permit, acquired in 2008 (before the passage of the current gas drilling ordinance with its 600-foot setbacks), and hosting 2 current wells, had expired over a year ago. Yet instead of going back through the Planning and Zoning Commission and applying for a new SUP, the company pursued an unusual side deal with the city council that would allow "renewal" of the site permit with the two wells, plus permission for an additional 34 wells, a compressor, and a lot of other facilities only 3-400 feet from current homes – in exchange for setting-aside some acreage next to this gasland extravaganza for "parkland." How could the council refuse?
Moreover, unpublicized negotiations for this swap were going on even as the council met on December 3rd to begin "an open dialogue" with the MGWA group at a special workshop to initiate a new gas drilling ordinance, including a request for a new setback of at least 1500 feet. No mention was made that night by any city official that the massive Edge Resources site reauthorization that undermined that request was in play. The first time residents learned about it was when it appeared on the council agenda the very next day for a "first reading,"re: approval.
Two weeks ago, the permit came up for a "second reading" and residents rallied. This time there was some news coverage and new opponents showed up at City Hall to speak against the renewal while a new ordinance was being considered. With gas prices at historic lows, the question was repeatedly asked, "What's the rush?"
In the glare of the spotlight for the first time, council members now sought new assurances from the company that the nice slide show about site development they were seeing actually represented what the city would be getting. Instead, all the company would say was that that level of industry best practices "could be deployed." With emissions from the proposed wells estimated at up to 13 tons per year alone, this was of more than passing interest to residents. City council members might have thought they heard real commitments, or maybe just pretended to hear them. Either way, the stage was set for final approval at the third reading at the end of the month.
Even though they were protesting the permit, Mansfield group members were so used to seeing their concerns discounted by an unresponsive council that they had no hope of actually stopping or delaying it. Still, they trudged on, wanting to turn this fight into an example of what was wrong with the current ordinance and get some mileage out of certain defeat. Lose the battle, win the war. They passed out fliers in surrounding neighborhoods, they met with individual council members, they sent out social media alerts. They put themselves in a position to be lucky, just in case.
On Monday night, more allies of the group came to City Hall for the third and final reading of the gas permit, along with opponents of a new medical waste transfer and sterilization facility that wants to set up in town. Now the council had a new problem. On the one hand it had a history of punting to the state over health concerns about drilling. Austin had the "experts" and the experts had claimed it was OK. On the other hand, those same Austin experts had now claimed the very, very unpopular newly-proposed medical waste facility was hunky-dory as well. What to do?
Getting tough in front of the crowd, the Council pressed Edge for promises it would abide by all provisions of a new gas ordinance save any new setback requirements (since the new wells would be even closer than the current 600 foot setback normally allows). Edge countered with a carefully and lawyerly-crafted statement that left them an out to such a promise, seemingly in contrast to what the company had committed to only two weeks earlier – but only if you weren't listening. Remember, those state-of-the-art practices "could be" deployed – not necessarily had to be.
It became painfully clear why the city needs all operators and all wells to adhere to a routine SUP process instead of working side deals on its own behind closed doors. Even so, last year such a permit request would have sailed through the council. This year, the organizing done by the Mansfield Gas Well Awareness Group made it harder for business as usual to take place. Much, much harder.
The Mayor and council members signaled their frustration over the lack of a clear yes or no commitment from Edge to go along with a new ordinance. After recessing into executive session and giving the company's lawyers almost an hour to work up the nerve to approve conditional acceptance, the council came back and still confronted the same kind of wiggle-room language they were trying to avoid. As a result, the "done deal" got undone at the last possible minute, and the council voted unanimously to table the third and final reading of the permit renewal until after adoption of a new gas drilling ordinance. For the first time in two years, Mansfield residents got what they had asked for when it came to a gas well permit.
It's only a delay. And the stubbornness of Edge's lawyers is as responsible as any thing else for the win. And the really big war over a new ordinance is about to start with most of the council seemingly unwilling to retreat from a "Fort Worth model" 600-foot setback. But better to start such a war with an unexpected victory in battle than a routine loss, plus a lesson about what can be accomplished if you work hard enough to be lucky.
Pending Permit for an 18% Increase in City’s Well Count Wasn’t Disclosed to Citizens or Media at Special December 3rd Workshop on Gas Regulations
What: Mansfield City Council to Consider Large new Gas Facility Permit, including New Compressor Station on Debbie Lane
When: Monday Night, January 12th 7 pm
Where: Mansfield City Hall, 1200 East Broad Street
Mansfield’s city council is scheduled to move forward tonight with a second hearing on a request from Edge Resources to build 34 additional gas wells and a new compressor station despite a pledge by the council in December to consider new ordinances designed to be more protective of public health, a process that is still ongoing and that concerned residents hope will reduce hazards posed by drilling within the city.
Although City Hall had been working with Edge Resources for months on a renewal of its expired 2008 Special Use Permit that would raise the city’s well count by 18%, the Mansfield City Council and staff didn’t disclose that information to residents or the media when it convened a special workshop to discuss a new gas drilling ordinance on December 3rd.
“It was very disappointing to know that while we were beginning good faith discussions on new ordinances with the Council, it had already made a decision to grant a second hearing to renew an expired permit that will significantly add to the number of wells and allows yet another compressor within city limits,” said Tamera Bounds, a Co-chair of of local citizen advocacy group, Mansfield Gas Well Awareness (MGWA).
City officials say they have no choice but to OK the renewal because the original SUP was filed before the city passed its current gas ordinance. But Bounds and others say the timing of council approval, and lack of transparency to the public about the permit makes the effort premature.
“Even if their hands are tied, they could wait until any revisions of the ordinance are in place and incorporate those changes into the Edge permit.” She specifically listed baseline air testing, vapor recovery, “flowback” control, and infrared camera monitoring as state-of-the-art features that every new gas facility permit should include.
Edge’s proposed permit calls for thirty-four additional wells to be drilled within 350 feet of homes near Debbie Lane with a new compressor and frack pond also constructed at the same site, where there are already two wells. Mansfield Gas Well Awareness is pushing for new ordinances with setbacks of at least 1500 feet between gas wells, compressors and homes.
Others were less circumspect in their criticism of what they called the council’s duplicity in dealing with residents. “It’s outrageous this pending permit wasn’t disclosed at the December 3rd council meeting called specifically to talk about how to regulate old and new gas facilities in Mansfield,” said Jim Schermbeck, Director of Downwinders at Risk, the local clean air group working with MGWA to change the city’s ordinance. “Even while City Hall representatives were talking about a dialogue with citizens to consider new regulations, they deliberately withheld notice about a huge new increase in gas drilling being requested.” He also called for a delay in council action on the permit until after a new ordinance was passed.
We must be doing something right.
Last Thursday, Energy in Depth, the national PR arm of the oil and gas industry, singled out Downwinders at Risk for our support of longer setbacks between people and gas industry facilities in Mansfield and other North Texas cities.
EID calls these setbacks, now passed in DISH, Denton, Southlake and Dallas, "defacto bans" because they require wells and compressors to be anywhere from 1000 to 1500 feet from homes, schools, park and other "protected uses" – to use city zoning lingo.
But of course these setbacks are defacto bans only because industry wants them to be – not because there are any technical obstacles to them reaching the gas underneath these cities due to distance. Gas operators can now punch a hole and reach deposits up to at least a mile or two away from where they place their rig on the surface. That's more than three 1500-foot setbacks end-to end. Operators have to spend more to drill to get that gas, but that's the price they pay for trying to place heavy industry in the middle of residential areas, parks, or near schools – something most cities don't allow when it comes to hazardous waste incinerators, chemical plants or landfills. Part of the problem is the inherent arrogance of the gas industry's position – it wants to pollute like a heavy industry, but it doesn't want to be regulated like one.
You know the folks in Corporate are getting worried when these things pop up on the Energy in Depth agenda. They understand their much-beloved "Fort Worth model" of less protective 600-foot setbacks and looser regulations in now under organized assault. While the rest of us see a constant barrage of new studies coming out every month emphasizing the dangers to human health of proximity to gas facilities, the industry wants time to stop in 2010, before we knew so much. But time marches on. And so does knowledge, and then public opinion.
Mansfield is deep into the Shale. It shares a border with Ft. Worth, unofficial headquarters for the Barnett Shale Energy in Depth crowd. A rejection of Cowtown's approach to regulating the gas industry here would be a major setback to the industry. The stakes are high. Just in the last week, two national publications, a subscription-only national newsletter called Environment and Energy Daily, and the Center for Public Integrity, have posted stories on the Mansfield fight. They've hit a nerve. That's why Energy in Depth is writing about it.
Getting criticized by EID is recognition that the partnership between Mansfield Gas Well Awareness and Downwinders at Risk is having an impact. We consider is a badge of honor. Our only regret is that it came too late to be used in our traditional end-of-year fundraising letter. Because after months of frustration, Mansfield residents are finally getting the attention they and their complaints deserve from their city council and the media. It's a national fracking fight hotspot. That's not an accident. That's good organizing.
Good things come in threes. Lance Irwin, Erick Orsak, and Tamera Bounds proved that again on Wednesday night when they led the Mansfield Gas Well Awareness contingent during the Mansfield City Council's "work session" on rewriting the city's gas drilling ordinance.
Combined, they projected just the right mix of competence, skepticism, and experience to combat the "Don't worry, be happy" approach of the Railroad Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality presentations that preceded them in the agenda.
(By the way did you know, that according to Austin, the average response time of a TCEQ inspector responding to a complaint was only 5 hours? Downwinders at Risk is willing to pay $100 to the charity of the inspectors' choice if anyone out there has ever gotten a response that quickly. After almost 30 years of dealing with state environmental agencies, we can't recall a single instance where it took less than a day for an inspector to show up, even when the situation was "urgent.")
By putting the three residents in the same horseshoe as industry, state agencies, and itself, the Council elevated the status of the resident's group beyond anything it had enjoyed in previous rounds of jousting over drilling. Whether that leads to the kinds of substantial changes to the city's drilling ordinance the group is pursuing remains to be seen.
What was obvious after the formal presentations ended and a more informal question and answer period followed was the large disparity in monitoring and self-regulation within the industry. There were at least 10 or 12 gas operators sitting at the table during the event. Conspicuous by its absence was Eagleridge, the source of many complaints in Mansfield and of course, the company that ignited the Denton fracking vote controversy.
But Eagleridge's Chief Operating Officer Mark Grawe was present, in the back of the room, trying to keep a low profile. It didn't work. Let's just say when you get called on the carpet by Stephen Lindsey, the Mansfield Council member whose day job is the "Government Relations and Community Affairs Director" for gas industry giant Quicksilver, you know you're not going to have a good night. As the evening wore on, it was clear Eagleridge was being portrayed as the poor, white trash cousin of the more established players like XTO and Chesapeake. The company lacked the remote sensors, automatic cut-offs, and other kinds of precautions that the rest of the industry reps liked to brag about. By the end of a rigorous cross-examination of Grawe by the residents' group, there was an unacknowledged consensus that perhaps the floor for regulating existing wells needed to be raised in Mansfield so that moving target known as "industry best practices" was updated applied to all.
More ambiguous was the response to the residents' request for a 1500-foot setback to replace the current 600 feet requirement – with a variance that can decreases that distance to 300 feet. Some industry representatives and council members want to frame the problem in terms of incidents and accidents that can be fixed with better equipment, rather than systematic changes that require separating people from heavy industrial activity, no matter how good the intentions are.
Also left hanging was how to better regulate polluting compressors. The city's lawyers, who've written protective ordinances for Dish and Southlake, was more circumscribed with their Mansfield employers. Cities can't regulate pipelines and mid-stream compressors for "safety standards," already addressed by the Railroad Commission they said. Left unsaid was that cities can and have regulated compressors for noise and "odors," otherwise known as toxic chemical exposures.
Bounds presented the city council with what she called a model ordinance that combined the best, most protective aspects of drilling regulations from DISH, Southlake, Dallas, Denton, Arlington and even Fort Worth. Saying these were legal requirements that hadn't been challenged by industry and so were available for adoption by the city, Bounds put the council on the spot by saying Mansfield needed to protect its citizens at least as much as these other municipalities and had no legal excuse for not doing so. Mayor David Cook took note of the work she'd done in compiling the new ordinance and said the city would perform its own side-by-side comparison and come back in January to continue the discussion.
Overall, the mood of the evening was cautious but positive. It was hard not to be impressed by the residents' knowledge and expertise, and everyone was civil in public. Afterwards, however, one of the first things Bounds heard was an industry operator telling her there was no way he was going to accept a 1500-foot setback. There is still plenty of work to be done. But it was a step in the right direction. And there are no big changes without incremental changes first.
It helped that the media were out in force, trying to identify the next fracking hotspot after Denton. There was a row of TV cameras and local and national print reporters showed up to take notes. Channel 8 had the best coverage of the evening, and if you can get past the paywall, here's the Star-Telegram's take.
As has been noted before, Mansfield is no Denton. It's not even Southlake or Flower Mound. It resembles Ft. Worth more than it does Dallas in terms of politics and attitudes toward the gas industry by the Powers That Be. It has more wells per capita than just about any place else in the Shale. But those are all reasons that make it worth fighting the good fight there. If residents can make their case effectively and change their situation in Mansfield, then there really is hope for everyplace else in the Barnett. Stay tuned.
Woody Allen is famously credited with the line that "showing-up is 80% of life." With organizing, it's more like 90%. There are at least two places to be tonight where just your butt in a seat will make a huge, positive difference:
1) Mansfield City Council Work Session on a New Gas Drilling Ordinance, 6 pm, Mansfield Performing Arts Center Workroom, 1110 West Debbie Lane, (near Hwy 287 – just south of I-20) (map).
After almost a year of struggle, residents of Mansfield are getting a hearing tonight in front of their city council. Unfortunately, the council, including two members who make a living from the gas industry, are making the the residents take on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Railroad Commission, 10-13 gas industry representatives, pro-industry state representatives, senators, and Congressman, as well as their own city staff – all in one evening. They're besieged, and they really need your help tonight.
We have it on good authority that the Mansfield Mayor is using this set-up to "gauge public opinion on the issue" even though members of the public won't get to speak. So it's all about attendance – butts in seats.
Mansfield isn't Dallas. It isn't Denton. It's not even Southlake or Flower Mound. It's deeper into the Shale, more blue collar, and more pro-industry than any other city that's been challenged over their old drilling ordinance in the last several years. The city has more gas wells now per capita – over 200 in a city of 60,000 – than just about any other place in North Texas – with a potential for 300 more. Concerned residents are at a disadvantage in trying to change the status quo.
Just your being there in a seat tonight sends a message you care about this issue. And if you live in Tarrant county or any place else where there's gas drilling in the Metromess, it's in your own self interest to help them in Mansfield. A victory there will make it more possible to win in other places. It will mean less air pollution from their wells and compressors blowing downwind. It will mean the tide is moving further west.
So do yourself, the region, and the cause a favor and show up tonight. You don't even have to speak. You just have to be present to win.
2) Trinity Toll Road Debate – 6:30 p.m. at Rosemont Elementary School, 1919 Stevens Forest Drive (map)
State Representative Rafael Anchia is sponsoring this debate over this leftover 20th Century boondoggle that features almost all the major players on both sides of the issues – Michael Morris, Mary Suhm, Patrick Kennedy and Scott Griggs. Again, your presence sends a valuable signal – that you're opposed to this floodplain toll way, and that this will be an important issue in the May Dallas elections. Go and be active members of the peanut gallery – cheer on the opponents, jeer the supporters.
It's particularly important that the public show increased interest tonight as Suhm and Mayor Rawlings conspire to muddy the waters with a new "review" of the plans of the road. They hope to give Citizen Council-backed candidates in the May election a way out of a simpey yes or no answer to the Toll Road – by saying their waiting for the review. You need to make sure they get the message that nobody is falling for that ruse.
Your butt can be a powerful voice for change tonight, or it can sit on the couch. Get out and show-up.
Mansfield City Council Work Session on a New Gas Drilling Ordinance
6 pm, Wednesday, December 3rd
Mansfield Performing Arts Center workroom
1110 W Debbie Ln, Mansfield, TX 76063 (map)
Denton's successful citizens revolt is off the streets for now and in the courts. The next organized front in the battle over urban gas drilling in DFW is the Fort Worth suburb of Mansfield. And this next Wednesday, December 3rd, beginning at 6 pm, hard-pressed residents there need your help in turning the tide.
In response to months of grassroots effort on the ground, and only after the very first presentation by a physician on the medical consequences of fracking, Mansfield's city council has called for a "work session" to "discuss" changing its circa-2009 drilling ordinance for next week.
Only this work session is designed to shut down the residents call for reform. The city is inviting
– The Railroad Commission
– The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
-All local elected officials ( Joe Barton, Bill Zedler, Rob Orr, Jim Pitts, etc)
– All 12 gas operators with wells and/or compressors in town, including Eagleridge, Exxon-owned XTO, Chesapeake, Atlas, Devon and Enervest.
These "stakeholders," along with city staff and city council will be given 15 minutes to make the case that the status quo is just fine. And oh yeah, then the residents group – Mansfield Gas Well Awareness – will get their 15 minutes to rebut the previous 90 minutes. No "outside groups" like ShaleTest or Downwinders – are allowed to participate or aid them.
What began as a simple request by the residents to meet one-on-one with the mayor has now blossomed into this huge conflagration where the city hopes to overwhelm the local group. It's in the self interest of everyone concerned about clean air and citizens rights and good government and fracking to prevent that by showing up in support of change on Wednesday night.
Even if you don't live in Mansfield, you have a dog in this fight. The air pollution from those Mansfield wells and compressors ads to downwind smog and toxic air pollution that residents in Arlington and Fort Worth and places further away breathe.
Progress in Mansfield means progress is more likely in other places in the Shale. A victory there means we advance a new, better model for regulation further west. Mansfield has more wells per capita than almost anyplace else in North Texas, over 200 now in a city of just 60,000 with the potential for another 300. Like other Tarrant County cities, it got hit early and hard by the Boom. Its drilling ordinance was written in 2008-2009, and based on – what else? – Fort Worth's model of 600 foot setbacks. This is a chance to bring the newer, more protective Dallas-Southlake-Denton model deep into industry-friendly territory.
Showing up next Wednesday means you're saying no to the bullying tactics the Mansfield city government are using to silence local residents. Just like corruption and gas drilling went hand in hand in Dallas, so it is in Mansfield, with no apologies for using a gas industry spokesperson as the city's main negotiator for gas drilling issues.
Two of its seven city council members have direct ties to the gas industry and obvious conflicts of interest over gas drilling decisions for the city. But one of them, Stephen Lindsey, is the Mansfield city council's point person for all things gas related despite, or because, of his job as "Government Affairs and Community Relations Director" for Quicksilver Resources, the sixth largest operator in the Barnett Shale. We've written extensively in this blog post about Lindsey's national role as an industry expert in "managing" local opposition to drilling. The guy is an industry PR troubleshooter and he's now personally directing Mansfield's response to the resident's request that the city update its ordinance.
Mansfield residents are besieged. They need your help. They need your butt in a seat on Wednesday night at the "work session." It's no coincidence this session is happening now, as the holiday season begins. The Powers That Be are hoping it wil get lost in the shuffle. Don't let that happen. If you want to see the legacy of the Dallas victory extended, if you want to see Denton's hard-fought victory pay-off elsewhere, please be at this Wednesday night showdown in Mansfield. It's the next hotspot for change, and we can't get it done without your active support.
Mansfield City Council Work Session on a New Gas Drilling Ordinance
6 pm, Wednesday, December 3rd
Mansfield Performing Arts Center workroom
1110 W Debbie Ln, Mansfield, TX 76063 (map)