Denton County has extensive natural gas well sites and the “gathering” pipelines that connect the multiple sites to major transmission pipelines that transport the gas to market.
Commissioner Andy Eads’ Precinct 4 covers the western section of Denton County, where the gas wells and resulting pipelines are concentrated. He and I were both members of the small subcommittee that drafted the “Best Practices” for Municipalities and Pipelines, which was the product of the volunteer Task Force of elected officials and pipeline representatives. The question is whether this type of volunteer process between elected officials and the natural gas industry could be used to address the issues of gas well emissions and frack (hydraulic fracturing) water use and disposal.
The problem surfacing in Denton County, and the nation, is twofold. The first concerns Gas Well Emissions. Are they toxic? Can they be recovered? The second issue is the composition, recovery, disposal, and possible reclamation of frack water. The recent documentary “Gasland” by Josh Fox, aired on HBO, covered gas well issues in shale production areas across the United States.
First, Monitoring Gas Well Emissions:
Do gas well sites have toxic emissions? If so, do the emissions come from drilling equipment, separators, or compressors – or all of the above? If the emissions are toxic, at what level and to what degree? And are the emissions dispersed in the air to surrounding areas, not just limited to the area immediately adjacent to the well sites?
What private companies or public groups could reliably monitor the emissions? Would the emissions be monitored 24/7 or intermittently? What would be the cost of the monitoring and who would bear that cost?
NOTE: I suggested that area Fire Departments monitor the emissions. Our own Argyle Fire District currently does an outstanding job of gas well inspections for Copper Canyon and other surrounding towns. Residents trust the reliability and honesty of the reports of their dedicated fire fighters. And in our currently depressed economic climate, monitoring gas well emissions could be a source of revenue for fire departments faced with strapped municipal budgets.
Recapturing Gas Well Emissions: Is there existing equipment available to capture any gas well emissions before they are released into the air? If so, what is the initial cost of the recapture equipment and its ongoing operation?
Government Regulation of Gas Well Emissions: Are State and Federal regulations on air quality sufficient or do they need augmenting? Can smaller governmental units (counties or municipalities) legally enforce stronger emission standards than the State and Federal government?
Second: Frack Water Composition, Injections, Recovery and Disposal:
Frack Water Composition: Amazingly, the Federal Government approved the Halliburton Amendment which exempted gas well drillers from identifying the components of frack water. However, nothing prohibits the gas drilling corporations from voluntarily identifying the compounds in their frack water.
Frack Water Injection: Frack water is injected into the subsurface under high pressure with the intention of “fracturing” the rock/shale, so that natural gas is released and will rise to the surface. This is how natural gas is “produced” from the well drill site. Unfortunately, some of the fractures in the subsurface rock may be releasing natural gas and its corresponding drilling fluids up into underground water reservoirs and aquifers which feed water wells in our area. The unintentional result may be contaminated water sources.
Frack Water Recovery: A concomitant problem is how much frack water is recovered from a well site? The amounts may be different for each individual well. What is the immediate and long term result of the frack water that remains in the ground?
Frack Water Disposal: The frack water that is recovered is supposed to be disposed of in a non-polluting manner. Unfortunately, tanker trucks that illegally dump frack water in ditches at night are an increasing menace. The Town of Northlake is currently experiencing that disturbing activity. It is not hard to identify the illegal “dump site” the next morning. Trees and grass are obviously stressed and dying. Something in that particular frack water is toxic to plants. Is it toxic to pets and humans?
Frack Water High Pressure Injection Wells: A currently legal alternative is to inject recovered frack water via high pressure into deep disposal wells underground. Unfortunately, this has had some very unusual geophysical reactions in the area around the injection wells – seismic recordings of minor earthquakes. These reactions may, or may not, have been a direct result of the injections of frac water. Very responsibly, Chesapeake Energy voluntarily discontinued use of its injection wells in the DFW Airport area until more factual data on cause and effect of the minor earthquakes could be gathered. (Seismic activity near injection wells has also been reported near Taft, TX and Cleburne, TX.)
Reclamation of Frack Water: This is by far the most promising use of recovered frack water. Devon Energy has pioneered this very responsible environmental approach. The challenge is to increase the percentage of frack water that can be recovered and to lower the cost of the reclamation process. If the process is both scientifically successful and economically viable, this could be an incredibly positive influence on future gas well drilling.
In Conclusion: Denton County Commissioners Court is to be Commended for even considering tackling such a Challenging Issue
To his credit, Commissioner Andy Eads has initiated the subject of a Denton County Task Force to address Gas Well Emissions and Frack Water Composition and Disposal. He did caution the Court that the composition of the Task Force should be limited to 50 persons, as a group larger than that becomes unwieldy. (The Task Force for the “Best Practices” for Pipelines was approximately that size. The subcommittee that drafted the actual documents consisted of about 18 dedicated individuals.) Both Commissioner Eads and County Judge Mary Horn indicated a willingness to serve on such a Task Force. They are to be commended for their political courage to tackle such a controversial issue.
At his request for recommendations of elected officials to participate, I suggested Barnett Shale Mayors Mark Burroughs of Denton, Pete Dewing of Northlake, Mike Donnelly of Double Oak (Williams Production has recently proposed 22 gas wells on the Meece well site on Simmons Road in Double Oak across FM 407 from Lantana), recently elected Melissa Northern of Flower Mound, myself, Calvin Tillman of DISH, Max Miller of Lantana (in the unincorporated area of the County), and our Denton County Legislative Representative Tan Parker.
I also suggested that gas well drilling corporations must be equally represented and especially those that had shown a willingness to work cooperatively with Denton County and the municipalities in the Barnett Shale area. Corporate compliance with any new regulations is far more effective if it is voluntary and not coerced. And voluntary cooperation is achieved when the directly affected drilling corporations have genuine and respected input into resolving the issues of concern.
Representatives from the major and minor gas transmission pipelines in the area should also be included, as any change in regulations could directly affect their business operations. I suggested Energy Transfer, CrossTex and Gulftex as major and minor area pipeline representatives.
Citizen representatives for developing residents’ mineral interests and citizen activists concerned with the repercussions of gas well drilling should definitely be included. And representatives of water supply corporations with w
ater wells in the Barnett Shale area should be included. (i.e. Bartonville Water Supply Corporation, Argyle Water Supply Corporation, and the Northlake Water Department).
The State’s Railroad Commission (RRC), the State’s TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) and the Federal North Texas branch of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) should also be represented. And if area Fire Departments might be asked to monitor gas well emissions – then Denton Fire Department, Flower Mound Fire Department, and the Argyle Fire District should have representatives to provide their expertise and feedback on the actual practicality of some monitoring suggestions.
Representatives of emergency response organizations should also be included such as Denton County Fire Marshal Jody Gonzalez and a representative from CERT (Community Emergency Response Training).
Gas well emissions and the composition and disposal of frack water are the pre-eminent issues for residents in the Barnett Shale area of North Texas. If our Denton County Commissioners are willing to address those concerns “head on” with a Task Force of all concerned parties, please give the Commissioners your support and your constructive input. Our five Commissioners DO listen.