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Air tests detect methane plume in Flower Mound

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A team of environmental scientists presented findings Wednesday from a two day emissions gas detection project showing methane levels as much as 20 times above normal background levels in the air around a gas drilling operation in Flower Mound and other areas.

Methane is a surrogate gas for benzene, xylene and other toxic and carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs), according to Wilma Subra, an environmental chemist.  More tests will be forthcoming to determine if those compounds were present.

“These findings raise troubling questions about shale gas industry pollution not only in Texas but for states nationwide where shale gas drilling and production is planned or underway,” said Subra.

The results were collected over the past two days by an undercover team driving an unmarked white van around the area to test a new measurement technology that enables drive-by emissions testing on shale gas drilling and pumping facilities – without leaving the vehicle or slowing down from normal driving speeds.

The sampling team included Subra and environmental testing firm Wolf Eagle Environmental of Flower Mound.

In one area of west Flower Mound near a Williams drilling site on Scenic Drive, concentrations of methane from emissions plumes were so high that the instrument – manufactured by Picarro Inc. – reached the higher end of its detection range at 40-50 parts per million.

When Subra and Wolf Eagle Environmental CEO Alisa Rich contacted air quality regulators, they said that they learned that the Flower Mound facility had failed to report an emissions event, as required by state and federal law.

“These jaw-dropping results show that the shale gas industry is not to be trusted with public health”, said Sharon Wilson, organizer for the Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project.

Williams spokesman Kelly Swan said that the site on Scenic Drive in Flower Mound checked out okay previously.

“Already this year, experts have tested the air quality on three separate occasions at the west Flower Mound site where we operate natural gas compressors in enclosed structures,” said Swan.

“All three tests show that the air around our site is well within the parameters of state requirements. On two occasions, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality conducted tests during unannounced visits to the site. We initiated the third test – conducted by W&M Environmental Group, a Plano-based independent contractor – to provide further assurance about the air quality at this site. We are pleased with the results of all three tests and will continue our efforts to proactively protect the air quality at our facilities in Flower Mound.”

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