Barnett Shale Drilling Increased North Texas Ozone – Fact Or Fiction?

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It’s been said that if you torture numbers, they will confess to anything. Perhaps we should call in a UN peacekeeping force to address the treatment of hydraulic fracturing in North Texas.

A University of North Texas study presented to the North Central Texas Council of Governments by student Mahdi Ahmadi, working with his advisor Dr. Kuruvilla John, concludes:

  • The study relied on 6 million data points from 16 monitors and divided the area into a “Fracking Region” and a ”Non-Fracking Region”,
  • there are 17,494 gas wells over a 5,000 square-mile area in 24 counties in North Texas
  • 11,774 gas wells were drilled from 2007 to 2013, 
  • those wells contributed to an increase in ozone, and therefore in smog and adverse health effects, in North Texas,
  • There were higher ozone levels in the “Fracking Region” than in the “Non-Fracking”. 

The report doesn’t characterize all the wells as producing from the Barnett Shale, but one would assume that comprises the majority. 

If you don’t want to read the report itself (entitled ” An evaluation of the spatio-temporal characteristics of meteorogically-adjusted ozone trends in North Texas”) here is a news report, and another one.

The UNT report seems to contradict a 2012 report by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which found no deleterious effect on the atmosphere caused by Barnett Shale drilling activities. I’m not aware of a TCEQ response to the UNT study.

David Blackmon of Energy in Depth concludes otherwise after analyzing the study’s methodology. Blackmon contends that the raw data shows:

  • An overall reduction in ozone across the region, 
  • the difference in ozone levels between the “Fracking Region” and the “Non-Fracking Region” were not meaningful, and
  • the study failed to take into several important factors, such as ozone levels associated with airport activities, which generate lots of ozone (three airports in the “Fracking Region” and one in the “Non-Fracking”), and the effect of heavier-than-usual snow on the ground in the more rural and more westerly “Fracking Region” during the last several winters (which tends to cause a spike in wintertime ozone levels).

I’m not automatically siding with Mr. Blackmon, and I’m not accusing the UNT reserchers of doing an Abu Ghraib on the data. Sounds like more analysis is in order.

Until then, maybe we should all lighten up and do as the Denton (home of UNT) band Brave Combo recommends.

 

Topics:  Air Pollution, Environmental Assessments, Fracking, Oil & Gas

Published In: Energy & Utilities Updates, Environmental Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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