The state is responding to concerns about air pollution from fracking in South Texas. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ, is installing the first air monitoring station in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale.
It will be located in Karnes County, where thousands of fracking wells have been drilled in the past few years. Up until now the only monitoring station was at the outer edge of the Eagle Ford, in Floresville. Over the summer researchers tried to measure how much of that air pollution is blowing up into San Antonio. News 4 Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila was the only reporter to go along on that project, and now the results have been released.
A team of researchers from UT Austin spent 12 days driving around the Eagle Ford Shale taking air samples in a special air monitoring SUV.
“This is a Chevy Suburban that we have outfitted with equipment that measures air pollution,” said Dave Sullivan, who headed up the research team.
We went along as they took samples upwind and downwind from the heaviest oil and gas drilling areas. They’re trying to determine if gases released during the fracking process, and emissions from the equipment, are drifting into San Antonio and increasing our ozone levels.
Ozone causes breathing problems for people with respiratory conditions.
“Knowing there are certain triggers that are going to trigger my asthma, that’s a big concern to me, a very big concern,” says Trish Perez, who takes breathing treatments for her asthma.
Now, about two-and-a-half months after Sullivan and his crew took their measurements, the TCEQ has released the results.
The researchers did find a big increase of hydrocarbons flowing into Bexar County from the Eagle Ford. Hydrocarbons can come from storage tanks and pipelines.
However, they did not see an increase in the other ingredient needed to create ozone: nitrogen oxides.
That sounds like good news, but the researchers admit, just because they didn’t detect high levels of nitrogen oxides, doesn’t mean those emissions aren’t making it up to San Antonio and contributing to our air quality problems.
Nitrogen oxides, which come from vehicle and equipment exhaust, are hot and rise high into the air. Sullivan says it’s possible they rose up and blew over the mobile monitor and into San Antonio.
That’s one reason environmental groups are skeptical of the research.“They can be up in the air, and then when they get into the city they can be reacting, with the hydrocarbons to form ozone. Then you can see it at an ozone monitoring station, so that study has serious limitations to it,” said Neil Carman of the Sierra Club.
Opponents of fracking say much more thorough monitoring is needed to get a true picture of what the drilling boom is doing to our air.
The energy companies meanwhile say they’re trying to reduce emissions by switching to cleaner engines and equipment. The TCEQ paid the UT researchers $100,000 to conduct the research.