Four new air pollution monitors are coming to the Barnett Shale soon, courtesy of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and drilling critics can’t wait to hear how the air is actually fine and there’s nothing to worry about and would you please stop asking so many impertinent questions already.

It will be shocking for our readers to hear that –– in a state where Republican leaders would love to throw the Environmental Protection Agency under a drilling rig –– Texas regulators have been criticized for not, you know, regulating anything.

The air monitors received much praise by TCEQ staff in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story last week that declined to quote any drilling skeptics while allowing a TCEQ bigwig to call Texas’ air “the most tested in the nation.”

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Just months earlier the Houston Advanced Research Center published a study suggesting that air quality monitors in Texas may be catching a lot of air, but not much of what’s in it.

The dozen or so monitors in the Barnett Shale, even including the new ones, probably aren’t enough to detect some of the more serious air pollution coming out of natural gas facilities, said Jay Olaguer, who authored the study.

“You have only a few monitors covering the whole Barnett Shale region,” he said. “It’s like having a net with very big holes. Big fish can still get through.”

More Snake Oil?

Can you believe that a state agency in charge of environmental quality would fudge on air tests to appease an industry? And speaking of irony, consider Chesapeake Energy. The most recent issue of its newsletter, the Barnett Bulletin, includes a blurb about companies that are switching their fleets to run on compressed natural gas. Under the headline “Driving Green to Clean Our Air,” the bulletin says the Fort Worth Transit Authority has joined AT&T, UPS, Yellow Cab, Waste Management, and other companies in converting to natural gas vehicles.

The newsletter then quotes Ken Morgan, director of Texas Christian University’s Energy Institute, as saying that using domestically produced natural gas as a fuel makes transportation “cheaper [and] cleaner.”

Morgan doesn’t mention the variety of environmental problems associated with getting that natural gas out of the ground: air pollution, water contamination, infrastructure damage, earthquakes, thousands of miles of pipelines, eminent domain abuses, insufferable bulletins and hokey air tests.

Hmmm, Static wonders who really runs the show at the Energy Institute. Oh, it’s right there on the TCU website: Larry Brogdon of Fort Worth’s Four Sevens Oil Company is listed as executive director and board chairman. Four Sevens is the bunch that snapped up Barnett Shale properties in the early boom years and then sold them to XTO Energy and Chesapeake Energy in the mid-2000s before prices crashed.


  1. In theory, the addition of air monitors can only be a good thing. In theory. In reality, even the existing air monitors aren’t actually monitored. If they are, then someone’s been asleep at the monitor. Take the air monitor in DISH, TX for example. It’s been in place for quite a while, now, and yet, when there are emission spikes, no alarms go off, nothing is done, and the people in the area still have to contact the TCEQ themselves. If history is any indication, the TCEQ will eventually show up and conduct some ambient air testing with hand held air sniffers. That’s good, right? Arguably, yes.

    Unfortunately, even when the TCEQ does find emissions levels higher than what it should be, they will ultimately take no action because they cannot identify the source-with multiple pieces of equipment from multiple different drilling companies all placed in close proximity, the excuse for not taking action has already been built in to the equation.

    So, while it may be a good thing to have more air monitors, if nothing is ever done, violators are never ”found’ and certainly not fined, then expectations of positive change will be nil.

    So, TCEQ, before you dislocate your shoulder patting yourself on the back, we need to hear you tell us what ACTIONS you will take as a result of the added air monitors that will be any different than your INACTION of the past. There’s little point in air monitoring if it amounts to nothing more than collecting data that you intend to do nothing with beyond collecting. (and that assumes you’re actually collecting data)