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Fumes spark UNT bonfire concerns

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

The bonfire for the University of North Texas homecoming went up in flames just as it should have Friday night, after a flurry of activity earlier in the day when residents began complaining about fumes emanating from a gas well site across the street from the bonfire site.

With the bonfire about 600 feet from the well site, resident Cathy McMullen called the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to complain about fumes that started overnight Thursday into Friday.

By morning, when inspectors arrived, the smell had subsided, she said, but inspectors shared her concern about the bonfire being close to a well that was coming into production.

A deputy with the state fire marshal’s office got involved, too.

Mark Grawe, who is executive vice president of operations with EagleRidge Energy, said that the company wasn’t concerned about the proximity of the two events.

“They’re assuming there’s methane in the air,” Grawe said of neighborhood concerns. “We would either be putting the gas down a sales line or flaring it.”

Denton Fire Marshal Laura Behrens said that the city did receive a complaint and dispatched an inspector to make sure that basic fire safety requirements were being met.

She said the city didn’t have the equipment to evaluate the emissions, nor did the city have the authority to tell UNT it couldn’t hold the bonfire.

UNT spokeswoman Kelley Reese said the university was told the well was currently being hooked to the sales line. The university’s risk managers toured the well site and talked to the production foreman and the regulatory compliance consultant.

“Our fire safety manager has been monitoring the situation, and has been paying attention since the beginning,” Reese said.

Elena Craft, of the Environmental Defense Fund in Austin, said no data are available on emissions of gas and fluids during the initial completion stage of a well, when it has been hydraulically fractured and is coming into production.

“You wouldn’t really be able to make an assessment whether having a bonfire across the street at the same time is a good idea,” Craft said.

The nonprofit environmental group has data that shows that emissions are much lower during a “green completion,” where care is taken to reduce the amount of methane and other emissions during those final processes.

Behrens said the city has been notified that EagleRidge Operating has a permit to flare.

Green completions do not include flaring, Craft said.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.