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Is Anyone Monitoring Drill Sites in Arlington? Sadly, the answer is NO.

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

On December 14, 2021, staff at an Arlington preschool next door to a Total drill site complained to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the state air regulator, about overpowering smells from the site that had made two people sick in their playground.

By the time TCEQ arrived to investigate, their instruments could not find significant values of possible pollutants. A week later, staff again experienced strong, overpowering odors while someone was working atop the tank battery at the drill site.

In the absence of round-the-clock monitoring at fracking sites, this scenario happens often. The TCEQ arrives too late to find physical evidence of emissions. Most neighbors stop complaining (assuming they know how to file a complaint, which very few do) because investigations rarely lead to regulatory action or penalties.

According to an in-depth investigation by Reveal, the TCEQ "...leaves routine inspection of wells to gas companies like Total. The agency, which conducts inspections only in response to complaints or red flags in gas companies’ self-reports, monitors a tiny fraction of Tarrant County’s 4,001 wells. The TCEQ conducted 93 inspections here in fiscal year 2019 and 134 in fiscal year 2020, according to Gary Rasp, the TCEQ spokesperson."

At a public hearing last year to permit gas wells at the same AC360 drill site, Kevin Strawser, Total’s senior manager for government relations and public affairs when asked if his company monitored emissions at their drill sites said, “No, we don’t do the air monitoring. We rely on the TCEQ for that.”

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokesperson Gary Rasp told Reveal, "TCEQ does not monitor air emissions at individual drilling sites.”

According to Reveal, “TCEQ can set individualized emission limits as part of the permitting process. But the agency offers leniency to many companies, allowing most well sites in Tarrant County, including some of Total’s, to obtain a permit by rule. That status allows companies to avoid not only individualized emission limits, but also public hearings.”

From Reveal again, "When Total asked for a permit by rule to drill and frack seven new wells at Rocking Horse, next to two Arlington day cares in 2020, the agency laid out its lack of oversight in a letter: “Be advised no review has been done by TCEQ to verify that the site meets the requirements of the permit by rule.”

Arlington’s top official in charge of gas drilling, Gertson, said to Reveal.,“That’s not our procedure to try to babysit a site or to monitor a site during drilling,”

We know there are emissions from the gas wells at AC360 because the TCEQ issued Total an emissions permit (under the “Permit by Rule” procedure) allowing them to emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other pollutants.

Here is a partial list of the pollutants the TCEQ allows Total to release into the air at the AC360 site:

(A) 250 tons per year (tpy) of carbon monoxide (CO) or nitrogen oxides (NOX )

(B) 25 tpy of volatile organic compounds (VOC), sulfur dioxide (SO2 ), or inhalable particulate matter (PM)

(C) 15 tpy of particulate matter with diameters of 10 microns or less (PM10 )

(D) 10 tpy of particulate matter with diameters of 2.5 microns or less (PM2.5 ) or

(E) 25 tpy of any other air contaminant except: (i) water, nitrogen, ethane, hydrogen, and oxygen.

The Arlington city council will be voting to approve more gas wells at this site right next to a preschool playground on January 4, 2022. They gave preliminary approval to the wells by a 5-4 vote on November 30, despite massive community opposition including a petition from parents of 69 children at the preschool, and hundreds of residents pleading with them to deny the permit.

You can learn more here about how to add your voice in support of children's health, clean air.

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