*UPDATE XX* EPA Official: “Crucify” Operators to “Make Examples” of Them
According to a recently released video, EPA Region 6 administrator Al Armendariz told an audience during a city council meeting in DISH, TX, that his philosophy of enforcement was, to put it nicely, less than objective.
UPDATE XX (2/22/2013, 9:33 am ET): As part of his last desperate defense of the baseless endangerment order against Range Resources, then-EPA Region 6 administrator Al Armendariz circulated a list of alleged casing problems due to Range’s operations — in Pennsylvania. Why a regional administrator would seek to highlight potential issues of a company operating in a different geological formation (and in a different EPA region) is unclear, although Armendariz’s comments about wantonly “crucifying” operators suggests a personal animosity could have been a factor. How else could one explain his decision to tarnish the company’s reputation in a manner that had absolutely nothing to do with operations in Parker County, Texas?
The list was uncovered in the latest EnergyWire report (subs. req’d) on the Parker County case, although it was buried several paragraphs deep in the story.
UPDATE XIX (2/8/2013, 10:51am ET): New emails obtained by EnergyWire show that then-administrator of Region 6, Al Armendariz, was discussing with others inside the EPA the possibility of Range not being at fault for methane concentrations in the Parker County water wells. Here’s how Mike Soraghan summarized the correspondence in his story earlier this week:
On Dec. 27, 2011, Armendariz outlined a position to take to Washington officials. His “least preferable” option included settling without requiring Range to provide water. But EPA would reserve the right to go after Range again with penalties if testing showed the company had contaminated the aquifer. (emphasis added)
So, a little over a year after Armendariz gleefully emailed local activists to “Tivo channel 8″ to see his agency impose a baseless endangerment order against Range Resources, and 11 months after clear scientific evidence was presented to state regulators confirming Range was not at fault, the EPA finally began quietly and confidentially discussing the possibility that their order was without merit.
This also raises important questions: Shouldn’t the EPA have had clear testing results showing contamination from Range’s activities before issuing its endangerment order against the company? And what does that say about the EPA’s own case against Range if the agency itself didn’t have enough evidence even a year after the fact? Of course, given Armendariz’s stated willingness to “crucify” gas companies solely so he could more easily control them, perhaps this strategy was bizarrely consistent with his method of enforcement.
UPDATE XVIII (1/15/2013, 9:02am ET): EnergyWire has obtained data from the EPA — made available through a FOIA request, full story here — showing naturally occurring methane in the water wells that now-former EPA Region 6 administrator Al Armendariz had claimed beyond all doubt were contaminated by natural gas development. The data came from tests conducted by Range Resources as part of an agreement with the EPA, and the specific findings suggest water quality is consistent with historical conditions in Parker County. Put differently, data obtained directly from the EPA even show that Armendariz’s endangerment order against Range Resources was baseless, a fact already strongly suggested by nearly all scientific evidence that was available to the EPA when the order itself was issued in 2010.
Perhaps Armendariz, who now works for the anti-natural gas Sierra Club, should have paid more attention to credible evidence instead of working behind the scenes with local activists to “crucify” oil and gas companies.
UPDATE XVII (10/31/2012, 10:45am ET): At a recent event sponsored by the Society of Environmental Journalists, Al Armendariz doubled down on his baseless finding of water contamination in Parker County. In response, Range Resources has sent a letter to the former EPA official, reminding him that his recent comments are “contradicted by facts, science, independent expert analysis, the final adjudicated decision of the Railroad Commission of Texas, the EPA’s internal documents, and sworn testimony from EPA’s sole witness to testify about [his] order.” The letter further requests that Armendariz stop making “false and disparaging comments” about the company that he wrongfully maligned.
It’s not clear why Al Armendariz, recently removed from a top post at the Environmental Protection Agency for saying that the government should “crucify” bad actors in the energy industry, abruptly canceled plans to testify before a House panel on Wednesday.
But it is clear that he was in Washington that day and met with someone — at the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest environmental organization.
On Wednesday afternoon, when a reporter visited the Sierra Club’s Washington headquarters just a few blocks from Capitol Hill, Armendariz’s name was written on the sign-in sheet as having been the last person to visit the office. The visit apparently came only a few hours after Armendariz had infuriated Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee when he canceled his scheduled testimony on EPA enforcement issues without offering a reason.
So, just to recap: Prior to becoming Region 6 administrator for the EPA, Al Armendariz’s claim to fame was authoring a study about air emissions that, even at the time, air quality regulators for the state strongly disavowed, and since then have definitively debunked. As administrator, he maintained a close relationship with anti-shale activists, said his method of enforcing regulations was to “crucify” oil and gas companies, and even issued an endangerment order against Range Resources that was so lacking in scientific merit that the EPA itself had to withdraw the order. And now, instead of attending a hearing in front of a House committee at which he had agreed to appear, he chooses to meet with the Sierra Club, an activist organization that has made no apology for being for natural gas before it was against it.
Tough day for those who claim Mr. Armendariz has never been improperly swayed by professional opponents of oil and gas development.
UPDATE XV (5/4/2012, 8:21am ET): A must-read editorial from the Washington Post says the EPA is “earning a reputation for abuse,” citing the Sackett case and the events surrounding Al Armendariz. The final two sentences are particularly apt:
The agency’s officers must have a clear sense when to deploy its mighty power and when to exercise discretion. That’s true for the sake of the economy and to ensure that the EPA will be able to continue its necessary work for years to come.
Also be sure to check out Kim Strassel’s piece in the Wall Street Journal today, which has much more on the preceding events in Parker County than what most other outlets have included in their stories.
UPDATE XIV (4/30/2012, 3:42pm ET): Armendariz’s replacement will be Sam Coleman, who served as EPA’s point man in New Orleans during the response to Hurricane Katrina. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, meanwhile, issued the following statement: “I respect the difficult decision he made and his wish to avoid distracting from the important work of the agency. We are all grateful for Dr. Armendariz’s service to EPA and to our nation.”
UPDATE XIII (4/30/2012, 12:04pm ET): The Dallas Morning News reports that Al Armendariz has resigned, and has posted his letter of resignation (which is also below):
I have been honored to serve as your regional administrator for EPA’s region 6 office the last 2 and 1/2 years. I never once forgot that the reason I was appointed was to serve you, to act as your voice, and to work day and night to better protect the environment and your safety.
Today I am resigning my position as regional administrator. This was not something that was asked of me by Administrator Jackson or the White House. It is a decision I made myself. I had become too much of a distraction, and no one person is more important than the incredible work being done by the rest of the team at EPA.
I leave with an incredible sense of pride for the things the Agency accomplished and it was fantastic to be a part of the effort. Administrator Jackson has overseen a renaissance in the Agency and it is again the global leader in environmental protection. President Obama has been incredibly supportive of me and my work and the Agency. He’ll undoubtedly go down as the most environmental president we have ever had.
Thank you all for letting me into your homes and communities, and showing me the challenges you face every day from pollution and lack of infrastructure. Your stories are now part of my fabric and the fabric of the Agency.
UPDATE XII (4/27/2012, 3:50pm ET): EPA Region 6 covers five states — Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico — and now more than half of the U.S. Representatives from those states are calling for Armendariz to “be relieved of his position” as administrator. In a letter signed by 29 of the 42 U.S. Representatives from Region 6, as well as by Iowa Rep. Steve King and Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, the members of Congress also state: “We are deeply disappointed in not only the statements of Mr. Armendariz, but also the abrasive, hostile posture that his office has struck during his tenure.”
UPDATE XI (4/27/2012, 12:12pm ET): EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has now weighed in, calling Armendariz’s comments “inflammatory,” “disappointing,” and “not representative” of the Agency. She also declined to say whether any disciplinary actions would be taken, noting only that she and the EPA “will continue to review” the situation.
This once again begs an important question, though: Armendariz described his comments as “my philosophy of enforcement,” so if those comments are “not representative” of the EPA, then how does the Agency continue to reconcile two diametrically opposed views by allowing Armendariz to remain as Region 6 administrator?
UPDATE X (4/27/2012, 9:39am ET): The case of the missing video just got a little more interesting. Apparently the video was originally uploaded by a gentleman named David McFatridge, who posted the video to a YouTube page called “Citizen Media for We The People.” But McFatridge cited a copyright infringement, so the website yanked the video. It’s little wonder why McFatridge wanted the video pulled down, though: he’s apparently a member of the Sierra Club Activist Network. And when it comes to opposing oil and gas development, the Sierra Club is one of the largest and most active organizations, so it wouldn’t want to have its fingerprints on this at all. Too late? (h/t Lachlan Markay)
UPDATE IX (4/27/2012, 8:33am ET): Some pretty big developments overnight, starting with former Obama White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein calling Armendariz’s comments “absolutely reprehensible” on CNBC (his comments begin around the eight minute mark). Later in the segment Bernstein even brags, “I used to work for President Obama.”
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) has also joined the growing chorus (subs. req’d) calling for Armendariz to resign.
And in another interesting twist, YouTube has taken down the video of Armendariz making his inflammatory comments, citing a copyright issue. More to come on that development, for sure.
UPDATE VIII (4/26/2012; 9:18pm ET): Four more U.S. Representatives are now calling for Armendariz’s resignation: GOP Congressmen Steve Scalise, Rodney Alexander, and Charles Boustany (all from Louisiana), as well as Rep. Pete Olson from Texas. That brings the running total to seven total members of the U.S. Congress calling publicly for Armendariz to step down or even be fired.
UPDATE VII (4/26/2012; 9:04pm ET): Add U.S. Rep. Ted Poe to the list of members of Congress calling for the resignation of Al Armendariz. The Texas Republican took to the House floor to condemn the Region VI administrator this evening by saying, in part: “He needs to be replaced with someone that cares more about the environment than personal crusades against industry.” Both the Wall Street Journal and Investor’s Business Daily have also called for Armendariz to step down.
UPDATE VI (4/26/2012; 4:42pm ET): “Unacceptable and embarrassing.” That’s the way the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is characterizing Mr. Armendariz’s remarks in a joint statement issued just now by TCEQ chairman Bryan Shaw, Ph.D, and commissioners Carlos Rubinstein and Toby Baker.
Their statement in full: “The EPA’s ‘crucifixion’ philosophy and agenda is unacceptable and embarrassing. The EPA Region 6 director’s outlandish comments significantly cheapen the role of the state and federal regulators who strive to ensure that sound environmental rules and policies are promulgated and enforced. Furthermore, such a philosophy flies in the face of the sound science, the law, and common sense that TCEQ regularly utilizes in pursuing legitimate enforcement actions where violations do in fact exist.
“We believe the way to protect human health and the environment is through vigorous enforcement, utilizing the state’s administrative procedures that are afforded to the public and the regulated community.”
UPDATE V (4/26/2012; 4:14pm ET): Simon Rosenberg, former staffer to President Clinton and Michael Dukakis and now the president of the New Democratic Network, a leading progressive think tank in D.C., told FOX News this afternoon that Al Armendariz needs to go. According to Rosenberg: “First of all, I think this EPA official should be fired, immediately. He’s clearly not fit to be serving the country, talking the way that he is.” Clip is available here – Rosenberg’s comments come in at minute 3.
UPDATE IV (4/26/2012, 3:33pm ET): At least two members of Congress, Reps. John Fleming and Jeff Landry (both from Louisiana), are publicly calling for Armendariz to resign or be fired. This follows in the wake of comments last month from Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter, who cited Armendariz’s use of “fear mongering, gross negligence and severe mishandling” of the Parker County case as a reason for him to be removed from his position as Region VI Administrator. We’ll be monitoring the news to see if any additional members of Congress or other officials make similar requests, so stay tuned.
UPDATE III (4/26/2012, 2:20pm ET): Ed Henry, previously with CNN but now the White House correspondent for FOX News, just asked Jay Carney, the President’s press secretary, if the administration had a response to Armendariz’s inflammatory remarks.
Henry, citing President Obama’s promise to foster and promote a “new tone” among members of his administration, posed the following question to Carney: “If somebody’s saying we should crucify the industry, why is that person still working at the EPA as a political appointee?” Carney responded: “He apologized, and what he said is clearly not representative of either this president’s belief in the way that we should approach these matters, or in the way that he has approached these matters, either from this office here in the White House or at the EPA.”
Carney’s response still begs the question, though: If what Armendariz described as “my philosophy of enforcement” is, in fact, “not representative” of what the president (who appointed him, and whom he represents) believes, then how does the White House reconcile the fact that Armendariz is still representing the administration as its EPA Region VI administrator?
UPDATE II (4/26/2012, 9:51am ET): U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is demanding an investigation into Armendariz’s comments, is not buying the Region VI Administrator’s apology. “His apology was meaningless,” Inhofe said. “You’re going to treat people like the Romans crucified the church? Get real.” The Senator also noted, as EID did below, that Armendariz has never apologized for grabbing headlines by (wrongly) accusing oil and gas companies like Range Resources of harming the environment, only to withdraw those complaints once the EPA realizes its accusations are, in fact, completely unfounded. Such actions certainly appear to reinforce the strategy Armendariz articulated in the video.
UPDATE (4/26/2012, 8:48am ET): Armendariz has issued a statement apologizing for the comments he made in the video. However, Cynthia Giles, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, didn’t exactly deny the philosophy Armendariz articulated, noting in a statement: “Strong, fair and effective enforcement of the environmental laws passed by Congress is critical to protecting public health and ensuring that all companies, regardless of industry, are playing by the same rules” (full statement can be found here). Armendariz still has not apologized for his emails to activists urging them to “Tivo channel 8″ prior to his office issuing what turned out to be a scientifically baseless charge against Range Resources in 2010.
—Original post from April 25, 2012—
EID has followed closely the actions of EPA’s Region 6 office in Dallas, and specifically its decision to issue an endangerment order against Range Resources back in 2010 despite clear scientific evidence in contradiction of its charges (embarrassingly for the agency, EPA had to withdraw that order earlier this year). This includes pointing out how the Administrator for that office, Al Armendariz, gleefully emailed activists in the area (prior to the official announcement) that EPA was “about to make a lot of news” and that it was “time to Tivo channel 8.”
That news, of course, was that EPA “determined” Range Resources had contaminated drinking water in Parker County, Texas. Local anti-shale activist Sharon Wilson cheerfully responded, “Hats off to the new Sheriff and his deputies!”
But as it turns out, the story behind Mr. Armendariz’s actions is much deeper, and indeed much more troubling.
According to a recently released video, Armendariz – who also appeared in Josh Fox’s infamous film Gasland – told an audience during a city council meeting in DISH, TX, that his philosophy of enforcement as an official public servant was, to put it nicely, less than objective.
Here’s a breakdown of what Armendariz said in May 2010, a few months before Region VI issued its endangerment order against Range Resources:
“But as I said, oil and gas is an enforcement priority, it’s one of seven, so we are going to spend a fair amount of time looking at oil and gas production.”
Nothing too inflammatory there, really…other than the fact that an EPA administrator — tasked as a public servant to operate objectively in his capacity as a regulator — was essentially putting a bulls-eye on a particular industry. But the next part of what Armendariz said is where things got really interesting. And shocking:
“I was in a meeting once and I gave an analogy to my staff about my philosophy of enforcement, and I think it was probably a little crude and maybe not appropriate for the meeting but I’ll go ahead and tell you what I said. It was kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”
Armendariz went on to explain more about how this works with the oil and gas industry specifically, stating “you hit them as hard as you can and you make examples out of them” and that one should “go aggressively after them.” Of course, Armendariz knew that taking such an aggressive course would also sock it to the industry financially, adding: “Compliance can get very high, very, very quickly.”
Strangely enough, Armendariz had initially described this as his own philosophy, but after he finished explaining how to “make examples” out of hardworking oil and gas workers, he said “that’s our general philosophy.”
One U.S. Senator has already sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson asking (among other things) if Armendariz’s statements about sacking Turkish villages are, in fact, reflective of EPA’s “general philosophy” when it comes to regulation and enforcement.
So, not only was Armendariz working closely with ideological opponents of oil and gas development before issuing a scientifically-baseless endangerment order against a particular oil and gas company, he was also operating under a broader philosophy that sees the industry as villagers who can and indeed ought to be crucified, for the sole purpose of making an example out of them.
But the story, tragically, doesn’t end there.
One of Armendariz’s original claims to fame — or infamy, perhaps — was his paper in 2009, which found that “the oil and gas sector likely has greater emissions than motor vehicles” in the five counties comprising the Dallas-Fort Worth region (“emissions,” in this case, referred to nitrogen oxides [NOx] and volatile organic compounds [VOCs]). That paper, written while Armendariz was a professor at Southern Methodist University, was widely celebrated by activists, who — possibly as a “thank you” to the professor — actively pushed for Armendariz to be appointed Administrator of EPA’s Region VI office. Upon assuming office, groups like the Sierra Club celebrated, calling it “great news” because the industry was “having an ‘oh sh–’ moment” about the appointment. Other shale opponents, including area resident Sharon Wilson, appeared happily in pictures with Armendariz.
To this day, opposition groups still cite the talking point that oil and gas production generates more emissions than all the cars and trucks in the DFW region, a claim that ultimately gets traced back to Armendariz’s paper.
But as it turns out, Armendariz’s original claim to fame — that snazzy talking point about cars and trucks — is just as dubious as the headline-grabbing endangerment order his office issued against Range Resources.
According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Armendariz’s conclusion that oil and gas operations emit more smog-forming emissions than mobile sources is simply not true. In 2009, TCEQ wrote that Armendariz’s paper provided “an incomplete picture” of emissions in the area, adding that several critical flaws contributed to “misleading conclusions” in the paper. In addition, the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council (BSEEC) took a hard look at the Armendariz paper and dismantled its underlying premises, noting along the way that Armendariz’s conclusions were based on “an inaccurate and flawed interpretation of the facts.”
Furthermore, TCEQ recently responded to an inquiry about regional emissions levels (the full response was obtained by EID and can be found here), which included an updated assessment of sources of emissions in the DFW area. TCEQ pointed out that VOC emissions from oil and gas production are less than half those from mobile sources (63 tons per day [tpd] vs 129 tpd). For NOx, TCEQ states that mobile source emissions “are approximately 15 times higher” than those generated from oil and gas production.
Sure, TCEQ’s latest findings are much more current than what Armendariz published back in 2009. One would expect (and, frankly, hope) that technological developments over time would facilitate more accurate readings.
But it’s also difficult to lend much credence to the argument that Armendariz’s findings were simply due to a methodological or technological difference, especially in light of the fact that his two most significant actions in attempting to “crucify” and “make examples” of the oil and gas industry have been rendered completely and unequivocally bogus by actual scientific inquiry.
The question is, with Al Armendariz’s troubling and offensive “philosophy of enforcement” no longer a secret kept by activists, but rather a part of the public record, does the Region VI office — and indeed the entire EPA — have any credibility as long as he remains in his current position?
*UPDATE* Computer Models, Actual Data, and Smog
A new study by Eduardo B. Olaguer of the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) purports to show that emissions from oil and gas operations will prevent nearby metropolitan areas -- particularly Dallas-Fort Worth -- from meeting federal ozone standards. Fortunately for people in the Metroplex, empirical data shows that such a conclusion is simply unsupported by the facts.
UPDATE (11/5/2012, 12:02pm ET): A piece in the Austin American-Statesman also examines the flaws in Olaguer’s report, likening it to a person’s doctor suggesting he or she is suffering from health problems despite medical tests showing the opposite — all based on a computer simulation using actuarial data and medical histories. The author then asks, “Wouldn’t you want a second opinion from someone who knows the difference between a computer model and the real world?” The piece adds an important conclusion to the whole debate about supposed smog-impacts from any process: “Citizens legitimately concerned about healthy air should ask for the real-world facts — facts more accurately revealed by monitored measurement of ambient conditions.”
—Original post, September 5, 2012—
A new study by Eduardo B. Olaguer of the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) purports to show that emissions from oil and gas operations will prevent nearby metropolitan areas — particularly Dallas-Fort Worth — from meeting federal ozone standards. Fortunately for people in the Metroplex, empirical data shows that such a conclusion is simply unsupported by the facts.
It’s worth noting, however, that the “ozone/smog issue” is a central plank in the anti-shale crowd’s agenda (part of its gradual shift of emphasis toward air quality). It began in earnest when Al “crucify them” Armendariz released a report in 2009 alleging that emissions of ozone precursors from oil and gas operations in the Barnett Shale were more than twice those emanating from mobile sources (i.e. cars and trucks). Given Dallas-Fort Worth’s well-known air quality problems, the study was cited far and wide.
The problem with Armendariz’s study — and other recent research suggesting harmful emissions from shale development — is that it relied on a modeling exercise that extrapolated an outlier of data into a broader trend. Proof of that has come from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which has used state-of-the-art air quality monitors in the region to conclude not only that emissions from mobile sources are a larger contributor to smog, but that oil and gas operations have a minimal-at-worst impact (more on that below).
Against that backdrop, it’s unsurprising that the HARC study — distributed to the press by none other than Downwinders at Risk, one of the most vocal anti-drilling organizations in the area — relied on modeling in lieu of observable data to reach its conclusions, which were wholly predictable based upon the report’s stated objectives.
Below is just a sampling of the errors and oversights found in the HARC study.
Olaguer: “We used a neighborhood scale (200 m horizontal resolution) three-dimensional (3D) air dispersion model with an appropriate chemical mechanism to simulate ozone formation in the vicinity of a hypothetical natural gas processing facility, based on accepted estimates of both regular and nonroutine emissions.” (HARC study, p. 966; emphasis added)
FACT: To summarize, the author himself has described this report as a modeling exercise that simulates ozone formation from a hypothetical facility. It’s not data collected from actual air monitors, nor is it an analysis of existing infrastructure — exactly the kind of work that state regulators, most notably TCEQ, have been doing for years. In fact, available data from TCEQ directly rebuts claims about high emissions levels from oil and gas activity in the Barnett Shale. Here’s what TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw said about DFW area emissions:
“After several months of operation, state-of-the-art, 24-hour air monitors in the Barnett Shale area are showing no levels of concern for any chemicals. This reinforces our conclusion that there are no immediate health concerns from air quality in the area, and that when they are properly managed and maintained, oil and gas operations do not cause harmful excess air emissions.” (emphasis added)
This kind of definitive conclusion is probably why opponents have to rely on hypotheticals and modeling exercises; reality simply doesn’t support their thesis.
Olaguer: “Using these methods, Armendariz (2009) estimated peak summer emissions of ozone precursors in 2009 from all oil and gas sources in the Barnett Shale to be 307 tons per day (tpd). By comparison, he estimated on-road mobile emissions from the five counties in the DFW ozone nonattainment area with significant oil and gas production in 2009 to be 121 tpd.” (HARC study, p. 967)
FACT: If the name Armendariz sounds familiar, it should. But it’s also worth noting that it was Armendariz’s study that gave anti-drilling activists a self-proclaimed license to claim Barnett Shale development is worse for DFW area ozone than all the cars and trucks on the road. The only problem, of course, is that air sampling data debunked his modeled scenario.
TCEQ data shows quite clearly that emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from oil and gas operations are considerably less than those from mobile sources. In fact, VOCs — which Armendariz and others continue to emphasize — aren’t even the proper focus in assessing ozone formation. Instead, emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) are a much more significant source, and TCEQ has found that NOx emissions from mobile sources are “approximately 15 times higher” than those from oil and gas development.
As the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council (BSEEC) has pointed out: “Even if all man-made VOCs were eliminated in this region, there are more than enough naturally occurring VOCs from trees, plants and other organic sources to combine with NOx to cause smog.”
To be fair, Olaguer listed Armendariz’s paper in the context of other available research on this subject. But he also neglected to mention what TCEQ — through actual air monitors — has determined with respect to smog precursors in the region, and how that real-world data rebuts Armendariz’s computer model. Whether deliberate or accidental, that’s an omission that unfortunately speaks volumes.
Olaguer: “Figure 1 shows 1-hr ambient monitoring data collected at a pipeline compressor station in Lake Arlington, Fort Worth, during the BSEEC study. Note the very large short-term concentrations of formaldehyde (HCHO) approaching or exceeding 100 ppb around the site. Such large concentrations may be cause for concern, not only because of short-term health impacts such as nosebleeds, vomiting, and skin irritation, but also because of formaldehyde’s capacity to release radicals and thus contribute to rapid ozone formation (Olaguer et al., 2009).” (HARC study, p. 967; emphasis added)
FACT: Large concentrations of formaldehyde could indeed be cause for concern, so let’s see what the above-mentioned study (conducted by TITAN Engineering) actually said about those HCHO concentrations:
“Formaldehyde concentrations exceeded the short-term AMCV in several samples at the Lake Arlington compressor station. TITAN determined that formaldehyde at this site originated from off-site sources.” (emphasis added)
This is important for a couple of reasons. First, Olaguer is clearly misrepresenting the findings in that study by suggesting the concentrations are from the compressor station analyzed, even though the authors of the study came to a completely different conclusion. Second, Olaguer concludes his paper by saying the oil and gas industry needs more regulation, including the “control of formaldehyde emissions” (HARC study, p. 976). In other words, based partially upon a clear misreading of a separate study, Olaguer is trying to make the case for costly new regulations — hardly the kind of sound scientific basis that should guide policymakers (take note, Dallas City Hall).
Olaguer: The author states the study set out to answer a series of questions, including: “How far from the source are significant ozone impacts likely to be seen?” (HARC study, p. 968; emphasis added)
FACT: It’s probably not a great idea to use leading questions to guide your research — unless, perhaps, you’ve already determined what the answers are before you conduct the study. For example, Olaguer asks “how far” away from the source will “significant” impacts be seen, instead of asking the obvious question: “Are there significant ozone impacts from oil and gas activities?” Clearly, Olaguer had already decided what the answer to that question would be, and his decision clearly did not mesh with what the available data actually show. So, instead of even trying to explain that away, he simply leaped from hypothesis to supposition.
Olaguer: “To answer these questions, we conducted a schematic modeling exercise that was not intended to implicate any actual operational facility, but only to provide reasonable quantitative bounds.” (HARC study, p. 968; emphasis added)
FACT: The language above says it all — this isn’t an assessment of what’s actually in the field, and it’s certainly not an aggregation of real-world data. And yet, Downwinders at Risk director Jim Schermbeck said the report is “proof” that industry facilities are improperly managed, and that “our air is not getting cleaner because gas pollution is still under-regulated.” Again, it’s a hypothetical situation shaped by carefully constructed inputs in a computer model…which is fitting, because that’s perhaps the only realm where opponents can possibly validate their claims.
Olaguer: “Given the possible impact of large single facilities, it is all the more conceivable that aggregations of oil and gas sites may act in concert so that they contribute several parts per billion to 8-hr ozone during actual exceedances.” (HARC study, p. 976; emphasis added)
FACT: In addition to the lack of definitive conclusions about actual air quality — to be expected from a modeling exercise — data from the past few years actually contradicts Olaguer’s “maybe, possibly” conclusion. For example, here’s a graph showing 8-hour ozone levels in the Dallas-Fort Worth area between 1999 and 2009, along with the substantial increase in natural gas production.
If natural gas production were a significant contributor to area ozone — which the HARC paper tried to establish essentially by decree — then ozone concentrations would increase along with an expansion in natural gas production. But that’s simply not what the data show — inconvenient as that may be for those claiming otherwise.
Olaguer: “Our findings suggest that improved regulation of the upstream oil and gas industry in nonattainment areas should include reporting of emission events, and more aggressive deployment of control strategies, such as vapor recovery to avoid flaring, and the use of oxidation catalysts on stationary engines.” (HARC study, p. 976; emphasis added)
FACT: It’s well known that natural gas in much of the Barnett Shale — especially in Dallas County — is what’s known as “dry gas” since it contains little if any associated liquids. Mandating the use of vapor recovery technology on gas that isn’t producing vapor reflects a poor understanding of the subject matter itself. Even if liquids were present, strict regulations are in place for the Barnett Shale (details can be found here) that mandate the use of vapor-recovery systems.
As Ed Ireland from BSEEC has noted:
“[M]ost of the natural gas produced in and around the 9‐county DFW NAA [non-attainment area] is very “dry” gas. The reason, geophysicists say, is that this part of the Barnett Shale is “thermally mature”, meaning that these natural gas wells produce no associated oil or other liquids. This means that the vast majority of Barnett Shale wells in the 9‐county DFW NAA do not require tanks for condensate storage. Little or no VOC is emitted from these gas wells.”
Olaguer said that his findings constitute “a severe challenge to oil and gas producers in the DFW area,” and Downwinders at Risk said the Dallas city council specifically “has a chance to react positively to this new evidence.” But what does it say that at least one of the recommendations behind those claims is something that literally makes no sense for Dallas County?
Some might argue that TCEQ is only one source of information, so there’s plenty of room for additional research. That’s certainly a valid point. But in the absence of other meaningful assessments that rely on empirical data instead of computers models, TCEQ’s findings have to be seen as the benchmark.
It’s also worth stressing that this isn’t meant to demonize the use of computer models in research. Indeed, when gaps in available data exist for a given subject, modeling exercises can play an important role in estimating impacts (or the lack thereof). But in this case, that data actually do exist, and it’s unfortunate that people choose to believe hypothetical emissions estimates are more valid than easily-accessible readings from actual air monitors.
Fact-Checking the Dallas Drilling Debate
The temperature has been 105 degrees in the Metroplex for what feels like 105 straight days, but this afternoon, the Dallas City Council attempted to let cooler heads prevail in a briefing it organized on natural gas development. EID decided to lend some facts to the debate, which opponents are fighting tooth and nail to obscure.
The temperature has been 105 degrees in the Metroplex for what feels like 105 straight days, but this afternoon, the Dallas City Council attempted to let cooler heads prevail in a briefing it organized on natural gas development. For months, the Council has been considering changes to the city’s oil and gas ordinance, and today it invited two panelists to speak about the proposed changes (And no, J.R. and the rest of the Ewings were not invited; they were too busy plotting their revenge against the Venezuelans who beat up John Ross).
The two panelists were Ed Ireland, with the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, and Terry Welch, a Dallas lawyer with Brown & Hofmeister, LLP. You can view Mr. Ireland’s prepared slides here, and Mr. Welch’s can be found here.
Ed’s presentation focused on several important facts about shale development, particularly in the Barnett Shale of north Texas: It’s a major source of employment (100,000 jobs over the past decade, including direct and indirect jobs), has generated billions of dollars in tax revenue, and boasts an impressive safety record. There have been more than 18,000 wells drilled into the Barnett Shale (including several thousand in the floodplains of the Trinity and Brazos Rivers), and there hasn’t been a single confirmed case of ground water contamination from hydraulic fracturing. And thanks to state-of-the-art air monitoring from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), we also know that Barnett development is not producing air emissions at a level that would impact public health.
That’s great news, and certainly something we should embrace and even encourage, right?
Not according to Mr. Welch. Indeed, Welch’s presentation focused on negative health and environmental impacts from development. Actually, to clarify, his presentation was all about impacts that may happen; little to no evidence was actually provided. Yet, Mr. Welch still wants the Council to believe that the impacts are very real – he’s just not sure if or even when they’ll ever materialize.
It’s also worth pointing out that Mr. Welch, as a member of the Gas Drilling Task Force, was actually presenting a minority report of the Task Force, which other members of the city’s Task Force felt was unfair. Those other members weren’t afforded the same opportunity to present their problems with the Task Force’s recommendations to the full City Council, a problem that Task Force Chair Lois Finkelman identified at the conclusion of the hearing.
But because we think evidence is important, here’s a sampling of the claims and recommendations made in Mr. Welch’s prepared slides, along with some important facts that folks in the Dallas area, including the City Council, might find useful:
WELCH: “Scientific studies currently differ as to the effect of gas drilling/hydraulic fracturing on human health, and doubt should be resolved in favor of public health and safety.” (Welch prepared slides, Aug 1, 2012)
- Mr. Welch is creating doubt by decree, not based on hard evidence. Consider:
- Associated Press: Hydraulic fracturing critics using bad science, experts say (AP, July 22, 2012)
- NPR: Scientists say it’s “not clear” what is causing negative health impacts; evidence presented by opponents “doesn’t have much scientific heft” (NPR, May 2012)
- Texas Dept. of State Health Services: The “pattern of VOC values was not consistent with a community-wide exposure to airborne contaminants, such as those that might be associated with natural gas drilling operations.” (DSHS report for Dish, TX, May 12, 2012)
- Public Health Experts: “Health records indicate that while production increased, fewer residents were diagnosed with serious illnesses such as cancer, respiratory disease, strokes, and heart disease.” (Mickley/Blake report for Denton County, Oct. 2011)
- TCEQ: “After several months of operation, state-of-the-art, 24-hour air monitors in the Barnett Shale area are showing no levels of concern for any chemicals…. [W]hen they are properly managed and maintained, oil and gas operations do not cause harmful excess air emissions.” (TCEQ, 2010 [via EID])
- Pennsylvania regulators “did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities.” (Pa. DEP air quality reports, Nov. 2010 and Jan. 2011)
- The bottom line: There are differing scientific studies on virtually every human activity. The question is whether the available evidence actually tilts toward one side or the other, and when it comes to shale development, the facts speak for themselves.
WELCH: “Imagine these setbacks in a Dallas neighborhood.” (Welch prepared slides, Aug 1, 2012)
- Mr. Welch is attempting to frighten the public about a potential drill site in the middle of a jam-packed residential area. Luckily for the City of Dallas (and inconveniently for Mr. Welch) this supposition is completely divorced from reality.
- There are no leases or proposed drilling sites located inside a dense neighborhood as Mr. Welch suggests here. It would have been just as erroneous to suggest a rig would be centered at City Hall – which, interestingly, Mr. Welch actually does earlier in his presentation.
- Here’s what City Council Member Jerry Allen said in response to this information from Mr. Welch: “I don’t see the value of that slide.” Ouch!
WELCH: “Floodplains by definition are subject to flooding, and flooding of gas well sites may result in release of undisclosed hazardous chemicals, along with significant amounts of salt and hydrocarbons, into water channels.” (Welch prepared slides, Aug 1, 2012)
- Notice the key phrasing – “may result” – in Mr. Welch’s slide. There is no evidence of this, but by suggesting there is a chance, he’s forcing the other side to prove a negative, which is impossible. This is essentially a rhetorical device, not a fact- or evidence-based observation.
- What we do know is that, according to the Texas Railroad Commission, there are more than 4,300 oil and gas wells already located in floodplains in Tarrant, Dallas, Johnson, and Denton counties. To date there have been no significant impacts to water or floodways.
WELCH: “Drilling in the floodplain would allow drilling in the Trinity River corridor.” (Welch prepared slides, Aug 1, 2012)
- Again, there are more than 4,300 oil and gas wells located in floodplains in Tarrant, Dallas, Johnson, and Denton counties. All of these wells in Tarrant, Dallas, and Denton counties are located in the Trinity River floodplain specifically (roughly half of the wells in floodplains in Johnson County are in the Brazos River floodplain). And again, there is no evidence of significant impacts to water supplies.
WELCH: “Dallas development regulations currently allow landfills and electrical substations in the floodplain; however, those activities are subject to several existing federal water pollution prevention laws that gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing operations are exempt from.” (Welch prepared slides, Aug 1, 2012)
- It’s difficult to know which laws Mr. Welch is referencing, but his suggestion that oil and gas development are “exempt” from water pollution laws is categorically false.
- For example, waste from oil and gas operations is tightly regulated by individual states and federal hazardous waste laws. Any waste sent to public treatment plants must pretreatment guidelines established by EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. If the waste is not sent to a treatment plant and instead sent to an underground injection well, the U.S. EPA already tightly regulates that process – which the EPA also says is a “safe and inexpensive option” for wastewater disposal.
- Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator: “[Hydraulic fracturing] requires smart regulation, smart rules of the road. What it doesn’t necessarily require…is that all that smart rule of the road setting be done at the federal level. There are states that have been regulating oil and gas development for a long time.” (Remarks at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, February 2012 [via Truthland])
- Steve Heare, Director of EPA’s Drinking Water Protection Division: “I have no information that states aren’t doing a good job already [with regulating hydraulic fracturing].” (Houston Chronicle, February 2010)
WELCH: “All parkland is valuable and a limited public commodity, and if drilling is allowed, that area may be diminished or effectively eliminated as parkland for decades.” (Welch prepared slides, Aug 1, 2012)
- Once again, Mr. Welch has created a hypothetical (“…may be diminished…”) and then advances an argument based on a situation that doesn’t exist.
- Here’s a picture of a completed and reclaimed well site in the Barnett Shale in Burleson, TX. Was the land “effectively eliminated” for recreational use? Hardly. Fore!
WELCH: “If these concerns are later determined to be without merit, the City Council may amend its ordinances accordingly.” (Welch prepared slides, Aug 1, 2012)
- It seems even Mr. Welch lacks confidence in his own dire assessment, to the point that he’s flat out stating that his claims could very well “be without merit” in practice.
- This is also a dangerous method of approaching public policy. Companies have already paid more than $33 million to the City of Dallas for oil and gas leases, which the city then used to pay down its debt. Arbitrarily changing the terms underlying those leases – on the dubious basis that the Council can simply “amend” the new rules later – means the city would be reneging on its promises to companies looking to invest further in the City of Dallas. Is that the kind of investment climate the City wants to promote?
- The City Council has an obligation to enact (or uphold) ordinances that are in the best interest of the city, not to experiment with the community on the misguided assumption that the damage it causes can be wished away through another set of amendments later down the road.
It’s one thing to exercise caution when making decisions, but it’s quite another to hide behind a wall of uncertainty (real or perceived) to justify serious restrictions or even outright bans on certain types of activity. What Mr. Welch has presented is not a list of proven impacts of development, but is instead largely a series of hypotheticals designed to frighten the City Council through manufactured uncertainty. And then he suggests that if his proposals end up being too burdensome, they can just be adjusted later – as if there are no repercussions in the interim. Does anyone really believe that would be the case?
Because the facts and the data don’t back them up, opponents of development in Dallas (and across the country, really) are trying to shift the burden of proof away from themselves and onto the industry. They suggest that it’s not necessary to prove their statements about negative impacts, but it is the responsibility of the industry to prove a negative (i.e. “There’s no evidence of water contamination? Prove it!”). This is not only absurd; it’s also not a legitimate basis for any meaningful public policy discussion.
Besides: If the damage and destruction to which Mr. Welch repeatedly alluded in his slides (and which opponents have similarly referenced) were actually happening, wouldn’t he have mentioned the specific examples?
- YouTube: Lisa Jackson affirms safety of HF
- Report: Data Show Health Impacts from Development are Overstated
- EID: Public Health and Hydraulic Fracturing: A Review of the Data
- TX DSHS: Exposure investigation for Dish, TX [PDF]
- Fact Check: Natural gas development and air quality in Dallas-Fort Worth