Friday, May 2, 2014

Why do Denton residents have to spend thousands to detect benzene in their backyards?

There are two things I want to address in this blog.

First, I have asked Dalton Gregory to remove my endorsement statement for his election from his blog and he will do so on Sunday when he returns from a trip. It was inappropriate for me to issue political endorsements like that when I am working as a member of a non-profit educational group.

Second, air quality tests that Denton DAG recently released show benzene at dangerous levels in a Denton neighborhood near gas wells.

Air monitoring is so important because in the backwards Texas regulatory system, fracking is treated as innocent until proven guilty. Even though we know the industry is using carcinogenic and toxic chemicals, the burden of proof falls on the residents to establish that those chemicals are trespassing into their neighborhoods and their bloodstreams.

Who can monitor our air to keep it safe and healthy? State agencies don’t have the funding, personnel, or equipment to even come close to an adequate monitoring program. There are 18,000 gas wells on the Barnett Shale and TCEQ has six air monitors! And when TCEQ responds to complaints, they are going to be taking measurements long after the emissions event and after the industry knows they are coming.

That means it is up to local communities to monitor the industry. Southlake, Grand Prairie, and Hurst all have monitoring programs as part of their drilling ordinances.

For two years, DAG repeatedly recommended a program be built into Denton’s ordinance.

When it came time for the final vote in January, 2013, Denton City Council, including Councilman Gregory, did not include a monitoring program in the ordinance. BUT they promised to make an air monitoring program as a stand-alone requirement. This, they said, would be even better, because it would avoid the vested rights issue so that monitoring would apply to all gas well sites – old and new.

I expected City Council would get to work on this right away. But they didn’t. In fact, in the fifteen months since they made that promise, they have had one meeting about air monitoring. Our elected officials have done nothing to monitor the air and not enough to protect the health and safety of the people who elected them.

I know lots of people pushed the issue, but I’ll just speak for myself. I wrote e-mails and made phone calls. I met with city officials to see how we could start a program. I wrote blogs trying to spur action. DAG brought Jay Olaguer, one of Texas’ leading air quality scientists, to Denton to give a presentation on monitoring. Jay and I tried to work with Denton and other cities to build a regional consortium for monitoring.

There was little cooperation and no action.

The city could have required in the ordinance that operators pay the expense of monitoring. Instead, citizens have to pass the hat to collect the thousands of dollars it takes to get Summa canister samples. They have to wait for months on end to get a few hours with one of the only FLIR cameras in the region (these cameras can cost $40,000 or more).

And when citizen test results confirm the presence of toxic chemicals, industry spouts lies about how the cameras are only seeing heat waves when in fact those cameras are designed to detect and make visible only toxic chemicals, not heat waves. This is the same old stuff out of the tobacco industry’s playbook.

The city’s failure to implement its own monitoring system has given industry the ability to say there is no danger, placing the time and expense and responsibility of proving that there is danger on the backs of the citizens instead of the city.

This is exactly why the citizens have taken the job of writing an adequate fracking ordinance into their own hands.

All of this once again goes to show why we need to ban fracking in Denton. We really, really tried to make it compatible with our city. We tried to internalize costs. We tried to provide safety and monitoring assurances. But at every turn, we met with obstacles.

We need to flip this backwards system. Ban fracking until we have proof that it can be done safely – that it can be done without sending benzene into the homes where our kids are sleeping, into the schools that they attend and playgrounds and parks where they play.


  1. I don't disagree with monitoring. But monitoring without action is near useless, unless you like to collect data for the sake of collecting data. There's a very expensive air monitor in DISH, but as far as I know, there's no one at the TCEQ monitoring the monitor. Heck, there's no one around to respond when the 'alarm bells' start ringing. If the monitor even had alarm bells. I think it was two Novembers ago, around Thanksgiving when the air monitor detected spikes in emissions. Then mayor Tillman had to call the TCEQ Director to get someone from the TCEQ out to the site. Naturally, by the time the 'investigators' arrived, the emissions had slowed, so any detects were at or below limits. So, monitoring is a good thing. a very good thing. But it needs to come with a hammer.

  2. Agreed. Hammering the point home with a ban

  3. So gas production is the only source of benzene? If we ban fracking for polluting our air, can we also ban brick production & copper smelting?

  4. Do people still drill for wells? I would love to put on in my yard. I think that would really help with water payments.
    Bill |

  5. Like most polluters, they know when to set off their flares. Cosden refinery in Big Spring loved thunderstorms. The moment a downpour ensued, the flares were turned up until the glass would rattle on my parent's home overlooking the refinery, and cast everything in a warm glow, a mere 5 miles away. Emissions be damned, the rain would carry the pollutants to the ground and gave the refinery the opportunity to burn off anything that was clogging their stacks.

  6. I have more faith in the city council and the citizens to keep you liberals from bankrupting TX. You think wind would be better, but it causes just as many problems, if not more, and it is very inefficient and expensive. Look at the U.K. and Spain. You quote all kinds of problems with fracking, but provide no proof. Toxic chemicals, is too vague. You also have no proof that "toxic chemicals" are in the air or water. With huffington post and other liberal rags touting your efforts, you have no standing with me. You liberals want to ban oil and gas, and you dont care the cost. You should just move to NY or CA with your friend pushing the petition and drive a Nissan Leaf.