Apr 26 2010

Mayor Calvin Tillman

Two Texans Share Shale Gas Experience:

Gas Industry Is Deceptive; Government Won’t Help You

‘Not Opposed to Drilling – Opposed to Being Poisoned’

Mayor Calvin Tillman of DISH, Texas, speaks at Clearville Community meeting, April 17, 2010.

Mayor Calvin Tillman of DISH, Texas, speaks at Clearville, PA, Community meeting, one of 5 stops in Pennsylvania and New York.

Tim Ruggiero, Texas Landowner from Decatur, Texas, tells audiences, "I am not opposed to drilling.  I am opposed to being poisoned."

Tim Ruggiero, Texas Landowner from Decatur, Texas, tells audiences, "I am not opposed to drilling. I am opposed to being poisoned."

Two Texans who live with the “boom” of the gas-rich Barnett shale are traveling across the country to warn citizens living above the Marcellus shale that they can expect:

  • Air & water contamination
  • Lies, half-truths and deception from gas companies
  • Little or no help from government regulatory agencies

Mayor Calvin Tillman of DISH, Texas, reminds audiences that, “Once you know, you can’t NOT know.”

In other words, as citizens understand the escalating problems of gas drilling in their neighborhood – from noise to odors to evidence of elevated toxins in their own blood samples – the situation cannot be ignored.

Opposed to Being Poisoned

Tim Ruggiero’s business card says “Texas Land Owner.”  He and his family live in Decatur, Texas, not far from DISH.  As he puts it, “I am not opposed to drilling.  I am opposed to being poisoned.”

Both Tillman and Ruggiero recently spoke to audiences in New York City, Philadelphia, Clearville, Midway and Pittsburgh, PA.  They make a point of telling listeners that they travel at their own expense.  In response to a question from this blogger, they explain their motivation this way:

Ruggiero: “My wife and I are not the first two people to get run over by the gas industry.  If we can get the industry to behave in an ethical and moral manner, it will have been worth our efforts.  Otherwise, the gas industry will keep behaving badly until they are made to stop.”

Tillman: “What happened in DISH, Texas, doesn’t have to happen here.  Maybe, together, we can make changes in the way the gas industry and government regulators operate.”

Because of verbal attacks by the gas industry, Tillman tells audiences, “I’m not a paid lobbyist.  I’m not on a crusade to end gas drilling.  I don’t get paid to be the mayor of DISH, Texas.  I’m not getting paid to be here.  I’m using my vacation from my real job, and I paid my own way here.”

Gas industry executives cannot make the same claim, whether they are from Spectra Energy, Range Resources, Chesapeake Energy, Cabot Oil & Gas, American Petroleum Institute, Marcellus Shale Coalition or America’s Natural Gas Alliance – to name only a few.

Where is DISH, Texas?

DISH, Texas, is a small town about 25 miles north of Fort Worth.  It is two square miles in size with a population of less than 200, according to Mayor Tillman.  It has an annual budget of about $70,000.

The town was originally incorporated with the name of Clark in 2000; but changed its name to DISH in 2005 in exchange for ten years of free DISH network – hence the unusual spelling.

More important to folks living above or near the Marcellus shale formation, which runs through Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio, is the town’s experience with the shale gas boom and everything that comes with it.

DISH is situated on a major pipeline route out of the Barnett Shale.  “We have 11 natural gas pipelines that converge on our little community,” Tillman says.  “Along with those 11 pipelines, we have 11 compressors.  We have 18 gas wells within our two square miles and four gas metering stations,” he adds.

More wells are outside the town’s corporate limits.  “In addition, the very first gas well that was ever fractured – using the current slick water fracturing technology now common in shale drilling – was developed about 15 miles from DISH,” according to Tillman.

DISH & Shale Gas Experience

The DISH experience with shale gas problems evolved over a 5-year period.  What began with noise from 11 compressors that collectively had about 20,000 horsepower escalated to health problems.

Five gas companies have compressors in DISH, or just outside its borders:

  • Enbridge Energy
  • Energy Transfer
  • Atmos
  • Chesapeake
  • Crosstex

“From property line to property line where the compressors are located, all the trees are dead or dying,” Tillman says.  Odors became a huge problem as glycol dehydrators were added.

Except for efforts to reduce compressor noise, the gas companies replied to each complaint by denying there was a problem.  State regulatory agencies provided no relief, according to Tillman.  For example, an agent from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) said he could smell an odor but his official report said the source could not be located.

With no relief in sight from either the gas companies or the TCEQ, the DISH town council approved spending 15% of its $70,000 annual budget for its own air study, conducted by Wolfe Eagle Environmental.1 (See “Links & Resources” below.)

Once You Know, You Can’t NOT Know

The town decided to act, according to Tillman, even if the gas companies and the state government would not.  As he says, “Once you know, you can’t NOT know.”

Wolfe Eagle Environmental took air samples at 7 locations and reported that 16 toxins were detected above what is referred to as the Effects Screening Level (ESL).2 (See “Links & Resources” below.)

Under section 6 of the report (p. 6) it states (emphasis added):  “Laboratory results confirmed the presence of multiple Recognized and Suspected Human Carcinogens in fugitive air emissions present on several locations tested in the town of DISH.  The compounds identified are commonly known to emanate from industrial processes directly related to the natural gas industrial processes of exploration, drilling, flaring and compression.”3 (For a copy of the report, see “Links & Resources” below.)

The gas industry challenged the validity of the air study, according to Tillman.  “They even went as far as to say that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality debunked our study, said it was no good.”

In fact, the mayor said, the TCEQ wrote a memo essentially validating the study then did their own testing and published the results in a 313-page report.

TCEQ on Benzene’s ‘Adverse Health Effects’

Indeed the agency’s carefully worded memo, dated October 27, 2009, acknowledges that there is a problem (emphasis added):  “The highest potential 1-hour maximum benzene concentration is below the health effects level observed in short-term animal and human studies; however, it is possible that adverse health effects could occur from exposure to this concentration.”

The memo adds that the agency (emphasis added) “is concerned that the monitored concentrations of benzene at several of the sampling locations could pose a long-term health risk to residents in the area if the concentrations are representative of normal and prolonged ambient conditions.”4 (For a complete copy of the 6-page TCEQ memo, see “Links & Resources” below.)

The TCEQ then followed up with its own study of air quality in the Barnett shale area of North Texas, and published the results in January 2010.

According to a TCEQ press release, 94 sites were tested.  At most of these sites, “chemicals were either not detected or were detected below levels of health concern.”  But one quarter of the test sites raised toxicity questions.

In the words of the TCEQ press release:  “However, two monitoring sites had relatively high levels of benzene. In addition, 19 monitoring sites registered benzene concentrations higher than the TCEQ would like to see.”

Gas Production – “Unsafe” Contaminants

Despite its cautious wording, the TCEQ press release acknowledged the potential health problems that come with gas drilling and related activities:  “Although the results are complex, it is clear that gas production facilities can, and in some cases do, emit contaminants in amounts that could be deemed unsafe for life-time (70 years) or long-term exposure. However, at only two monitoring sites were benzene levels found that would trigger immediate actions to reduce emissions.”5 (For a link to the TCEQ press release, see “Links & Resources” below.)

TCEQ alleges that what it called two benzene “hot spots” in DISH have been “identified and corrected” by the gas companies.

But the agency also announced that it would investigate citizen complaints about gas and oil production areas within 12 hours.

In addition, it would install a continuous air monitor in DISH “to get a better understanding of long-term ambient air conditions.”

In an e-mail sent April 22, Mayor Tillman said the air monitor is up and running.  “It is now available 24 hours a days seven days a week.  I am thrilled with this development, and this is a real victory for the citizens of this community.  You may see the data at the link below, and please spread the word.”

Link to TCEQ’s air monitoring web page:

http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/compliance/monitoring/air/monops/agc/agc_barnett.html

Tillman offers several recommendations to improve the shale gas extraction process and minimize negative health effects on the environment and individuals:

1.    Pennsylvania & New York should impose a severance tax on gas companies when they extract and produce gas.  Currently, PA & NY are the only two states that do not have a severance tax, out of more than 30 states with gas drilling activity.  Tillman urges his audiences to “Write your state legislators and tell them to do this; but tell them to put the severance tax to work on regulating natural gas drilling to make it cleaner and safer for the environment.  Otherwise, legislators will use the revenue from a severance tax to cover other budget shortfalls.”

2.    Require the latest emissions technology -

a.    Use a closed loop system to eliminate plastic-lined holding pits, trenches or ponds for liquid drilling waste;

b.    Install vapor recovery units on condensate tanks to reduce or eliminate emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs);

c.     Use zero emission glycol dehydration units;

d.    Use pneumatic ‘no-bleed’ valves to prevent fugitive emissions (which can’t be seen with the naked eye, but such vapors can be seen with an infrared camera);

e.    Recycle the flowback frac water to reduce the amount of fresh water used in hydraulic fracturing;

3.    Make some areas off limits to drilling or related activities - No drilling or pipeline activities should be permitted near homes, schools or houses of worship.

4.    Local governments should have the ability to impose drilling ordinances - these might include road-use agreements and set backs of 1,000-feet or more to prevent drilling, pipelines or related operations near homes, schools or houses of worship.

5.    Pretest before drilling – communities should perform air and water tests prior to drilling and follow up at appropriate intervals to see if air or water quality has changed.

Note:  Next week’s blog post will cover Texas Landowner Tim Ruggiero and his family’s experience with shale gas drilling.  As Mayor Tillman says, “It sucks to be the example” for bad behavior from the gas companies.   For example, Aruba Petroleum waited until the Ruggiero family left for work and school one morning, then used cutting torches on their fence in order to move bulldozers and backhoes onto their property to prepare a drilling pad next to their house.

Mayor Tillman talks about the economic impact of shale gas on small towns, and the declining productivity of shale gas wells – surprising in light of all the “benefit” studies about shale gas production.  In addition, Tillman advises audiences to beware of “moles” in their communities who may be enlisted by gas companies to sell the benefits of drilling in your community.

Links & Resources

1 Wolfe Eagle Environmental Website: http://www.wolfeagleenvironmental.com/site/

2 Effects Screening Levels (ESLs) are explained on the website of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).  According to the TCEQ, ESLs “are used to evaluate the potential for effects to occur as a result of exposure to concentrations of constituents in the air.”  For a full explanation, see the ESL page: http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/implementation/tox/esl/ESLMain.html

3 Town of DISH, Texas – Ambient Air Monitoring Analysis – Final Report, Prepared by Wolf Eagle Environmental, September 15, 2009.  This is the complete 9-page report:  dish-air-quality-report-9-09

4 Interoffice Memorandum of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, October 27, 2009 - The TCEQ reviews the air monitoring study by Wolf Eagle Enviromental and concludes there is cause for concern.tceqhealtheffectsreview

5 TCEQ Completes Study on Air Emissions in Barnett Shale (press release):

http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/comm_exec/communication/media/1-10BarnettShale1-27

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