The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says it plans to add a new air monitor in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale play to measure the impact of pollution from oil and gas sites that are spreading across South Texas.
The move comes after Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff criticized the agency’s attempts to curb air pollution in the shale region south and east of San Antonio.
In a Sept. 2 letter to TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw, Wolff noted that no monitoring sites were based close to the frenetic drilling activity in the shale region, and he cited a yearlong investigation by the San Antonio Express-News that showed natural gas flares had pumped out more air pollution than all six oil refineries in Corpus Christi.
Wolff also noted that the Alamo Area Council of Governments was studying how air pollutants from the Eagle Ford could drift into Bexar County and potentially increase summer ozone levels. That could trigger stricter regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.
TCEQ had previously stated it had no plans to install more monitors in the Eagle Ford Shale. But Shaw responded to Wolff in a Sept. 25 letter and said more monitoring was on the way – and for the first time, at least one site will be located near major oil and gas activity.
“In response to rapid development of the Eagle Ford Shale area, TCEQ began plans to install additional fixed-site volatile organic compound monitors to help address questions about air emissions and air quality in the region,” Shaw wrote. An agency spokesman said Monday the plans were in the works for “well over a year.”
Volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, include a variety of compounds that can be carcinogenic or precursors to ground-level ozone.
The new monitoring site will be in Karnes County, Shaw wrote, although a specific location has not yet been identified. Shaw said air monitors were just one component of TCEQ’s efforts, which include helicopter flyovers of the region with infrared cameras to spot air pollutants that are invisible to the naked eye.
“It is our hope that this response can provide some insight into the magnitude of TCEQ’s air monitoring efforts in the Eagle Ford Shale area,” Shaw wrote.