EPA:

Texas office weighs options on Barnett Shale drilling

U.S. EPA lacks the legal authority to impose some tougher restrictions on the emerging natural gas sector in North Texas' Barnett Shale, the agency's regional administrator said yesterday, but the agency is weighing its options as residents complain that drilling operations are causing air and water pollution.

Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz recently met with about 100 natural gas industry representatives, warning them that they could face a crackdown if they don't improve their understanding of potential pollution from drilling. Federal statutes don't allow the agency to automatically require measures such as mandatory distances between wells and communities, he said in an interview, but the agency could require those distances as part of a comprehensive plan for a problematic drilling site.

"I don't have a way-of-life act I can enforce," Armendariz said. "At the same time, the EPA is not toothless."

Shale gas drilling has raised pollution concerns in North Texas, most notably the small town of Dish, which is adjacent to a complex of pipelines and compressor stations. A study commissioned by Dish found high levels of carcinogenic chemicals in the air last fall, and now the town is preparing to test claims by residents that hydraulic fracturing operations have caused pollution of groundwater wells.

Industry groups contest Dish's claims. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality installed an air pollution monitor in the town last month, and in the monitor's first three weeks of operations, no emissions levels exceeded state and federal guidelines.

"When you have a continuous air monitor and the results are in the same range, hour by hour, day in and day out -- you can't argue with it," said Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council (Mike Lee, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 10). -- GN