Thursday, August 8, 2013

What Happened to that Promise?

One of the worst things about living near drilling and fracking is how little these activities are monitored. We don't know if and when we are being exposed to how much of what kind of pollution.
The Texas Railroad Commission allows thousands of wells to go uninspected every year. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has very few permanent/continuous air monitors in our area. And, from what we learned at the Smith-Yorlum blowout, it can take them hours to arrive on the scene of an emissions event. And of course, there is no state-level investment in mobile monitoring or other cutting edge techniques capable of actually detecting the pollutants we are worried about.

The situation is better at the local level for surface water monitoring, with roughly 80 stations around the city. But very little is done by way of groundwater monitoring. And nothing is done by way of air monitoring. A direct quote from the Director of our gas well team: “The Gas Well Inspections Division does not possess air quality monitoring equipment.”

We could have known what really was coming out of that venting Smith-Yorlum for the 13.5 hours prior to the arrival of TCEQ…if only we had some local monitoring.

The thing is that City Council promised to set up an air monitoring program when they passed the drilling and production ordinance seven months ago. Despite that promise, almost nothing has happened. They had one presentation….and as far as I can tell that is it. I’ve made calls and I’ve sent e-mails. Staff tells me they are waiting for City Council direction. City Council tells me they are waiting for a report from Staff. I’ve even got someone from HARC to work up two different proposals for a mobile monitoring lab. But no one seems to be taking it seriously. Meanwhile nothing is getting done.

I didn’t want to have to make a stink about this on my blog. I know everyone in City Government is busy with tons of important priorities. But come on. You promised us. That was a long time ago.

So now I am going to pester, push, and publicize this issue in the blogosphere. I encourage my readers to drop their City Council representative a line asking how they are progressing on this promise.

In case you want a reminder of what was said on January 15 (the night the ordinance was approved), here is an excerpt from the City Council meeting minutes:

Council Member Watts stated that two of the top priorities were air and water monitoring for the health and safety of citizens and how to do that effectively was discussed by Council. Flower Mound did air monitoring through their oil inspection and monitoring department and did not include it in their ordinance. The cost of those services were recovered though the oil and gas fees. Water well monitoring had the challenge that with private water wells permission from the owner was needed in order to do the tests. The same paradigm could be applied to the water monitoring as the air monitoring in that the City could do the tests within whatever setback was determined. The oil and gas well division could to do that and it would not have to be placed in the ordinance.

Mayor Burroughs stated that the direction given to staff during the Work Session was to develop those initiatives on a departmental basis with the fees to be spread among any development of oil and gas within the city limits rather than defined in the ordinance.

Council Member Roden questioned how soon Council could be briefed on what Council could do in that area and how quickly it could be implemented.

Groth stated that the scope of the work and fee structure would have to be defined. Perhaps the same consultant that helped with the prior fee structure could be used.

Council Member Roden recommended that it be done as quickly as possible to analyze the options and begin the process.


  1. What one says, and what one actually does, often is in direct conflict - especially from those in positions of power. It is one thing when your neighbor fails to keep his dog from ruining a small portion of your lawn. It is quite another when officials fail to safeguard the health and welfare of some 100,000+ constituents after publicly promising to do so - and then just treat highly dangerous violations as if it is just a tiny bit of poop in the grass.

  2. Maybe they realized the City would get sued, like Longmont, Colorado & the City of Arlington!