Group calls for cutting industry emissions

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A North Texas environmental group has launched a campaign that members hope will reduce emissions from Barnett Shale natural gas facilities.

Perhaps best known for its 30-year battle against emissions from cement plants in Midlothian, Downwinders at Risk has called on area cities, school districts and counties to pass a resolution asking that gas production companies be required to do their "fair share" in reducing emissions.

The initiative comes as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality considers a new plan to meet federal standards for air quality in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. The region has not met the federal ozone standard for 20 years. Last year, Houston met the now-obsolete standards from 1997, but Dallas-Fort Worth did not - the first time North Texas had worse air quality than the state's largest city.

Dish was the first city to put the resolution on its agenda, passing the resolution Monday night. Calvin Tillman, the town's outspoken and outgoing mayor, said he was happy to lend support.

"Regulators want to sit in Austin and listen to the lobbyists tell them that everything is hunky-dory," Tillman said. "Not everybody up here agrees with that."

At issue - not only for environmental groups but for the region's compliance with federal law - is the amount of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, being emitted in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. For the state to show it is moving toward compliance with federal standards, the region needs to reduce VOCs by 140 tons per day, 56 tons per day, or none at all - depending on the computer model and the assumptions - according to Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders at Risk.

According to TCEQ spokesman Terry Clawson, the agency is showing a 17-ton-per-day deficit for 2012, and is considering where it can further cut emissions.

That deficit is based on an older computer model and TCEQ doesn't yet know whether a new model will result in a reduction of that deficit, Clawson said.

"Preliminary data suggest that the newer model will result in either no deficit or a smaller deficit," Clawson wrote in an e-mail.

Clawson said the models include air chemistry, but Schermbeck questioned whether the latest knowledge was being included. Colorado scientists have seen that when dirty air meets VOCs, the mix makes ozone even faster, he said.

He questioned whether this newest understanding of air chemistry was in the models, particularly since dirty Dallas-Fort Worth air could blow into Denton, Wise and northern Tarrant counties and mix with VOCs emitted by shale gas facilities.

Schermbeck is a member of a North Central Texas Council of Government planning group charged with helping achieve compliance. The group appointed a subcommittee, which Schermbeck served on, to address Barnett Shale emissions problems, but he says it was never clear what the subcommittee's charge was in relation to achieving compliance.

He has watched state regulators move to regulate nitrogen oxide - another ozone precursor - but not VOCs, and said he doesn't understand why - hence the "fair share" campaign.

Other businesses and the automobile industry have had to reduce emissions over the past 20 years. TCEQ has determined that the region could reduce VOC emissions by 100 tons per day by regulating leaking condensate tanks, gas-powered valves and well flaring.

"Some experts say the air quality part of the Barnett Shale problem is the easiest to solve, if only they would do it," Schermbeck said.

The group hopes to have a number of local government resolutions in hand when the TCEQ makes its first vote on the new plan June 8 in Austin.

"It's like condensing the two to three years we worked on our 'green cement' initiative into 30 days," Schermbeck said.

After that vote, a six-month public comment period opens for the plan. The group intends to press for more resolutions between June and the final vote in December.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her email address is pheinkel-wolfe@dentonrc.com .

 


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