About Air and Water

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Regional focus on air quality - State environmental agency offers grants to clean up gas compressors

Galen Scott - Weatherford Democrat - June 22, 2007
State environmental officials announced $4 million in grants designed to help Texas natural gas producers limit harmful emission levels Friday.

Nine counties in the Dallas/Fort Worth air quality non-attainment area, including Parker, were identified in a group where “rich-burn” gas compressor engines are producing high levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx).
“Rich-burn” engines run on natural gas and are usually located near individual gas wells or at extraction junctions. Though most produce less than 500 horsepower, official estimates indicate the engines emit 32 tons of NOx per day and contribute to the growing Metroplex air quality problem.

The engines are used for moving natural gas to market. Since mineral production levels in the Fort Worth Basin began their steady climb six years ago, an unknown number of compressors have been installed.

Andrea Morrow, a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said the agency is currently conducting a study to find out how many of the rich-burn compressor engines are in each county.

“[The engines] are going to need to be retrofitted in order to comply with the new rules and these grants are going to help with the cost of that,” Morrow said.

Despite prolific activity associated with the Barnett Shale, the incentive to cooperate could be higher in East Texas where the state also offered 33 other counties the same retrofit reimbursement deal.

Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) authored Senate Bill 2000, which freed up the funding. Eltife’s district managed to ward off non-attainment classification in 1997 when the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced additional eight-hour ozone standards. If East Texas counties remain in attainment, the region could avoid the same set of motor vehicle restrictions currently hinging on the next Metroplex air quality assessment.

“This legislation set up a grant program to help reduce emissions in our area on certain compressors in the oil field by over 96 percent,” Eltife said in a statement. “This is very important in helping us keep our area in attainment.”

In 1990, the EPA classified nine counties surrounding Dallas and Fort Worth as “moderate” ozone non-attainment, meaning those counties failed to meet national air quality standards. Since the original federal designation, Metroplex non-attainment areas have failed to achieve compliance by deadlines mandated in 1996 and 1999, and the EPA reclassified the region as “serious.” After an extension was granted in 1999, the pending DFW attainment date was set for November of this year.

Several important federal concessions are tied to an area’s EPA air quality attainment status, including transportation funding, but whether or not gas operators in the Dallas/Fort Worth area will choose to participate in the grant program remains to be seen.

The grant system was designed to serve as a partial reimbursement of costs associated with the installation of new NOx reduction systems. So far, retrofitting remains voluntary, emissions reductions must be verified in order to receive grant money and the state only provides a 75 percent reimbursement of capital costs.

And because much of local gas exploration is taking place near businesses and homes, some Barnett Shale drillers are already paying out of pocket to address noise and safety concerns.

Three local operators did not immediately respond to requests for interviews regarding the compressor engine grant program Friday.
See Weatherford-Democrat

gscott@weatherforddemocrat.com

State environmental officials announced $4 million in grants designed to help Texas natural gas producers limit harmful emission levels Friday.

Nine counties in the Dallas/Fort Worth air quality non-attainment area, including Parker, were identified in a group where “rich-burn” gas compressor engines are producing high levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx).

“Rich-burn” engines run on natural gas and are usually located near individual gas wells or at extraction junctions. Though most produce less than 500 horsepower, official estimates indicate the engines emit 32 tons of NOx per day and contribute to the growing Metroplex air quality problem.

The engines are used for moving natural gas to market. Since mineral production levels in the Fort Worth Basin began their steady climb six years ago, an unknown number of compressors have been installed.

Andrea Morrow, a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said the agency is currently conducting a study to find out how many of the rich-burn compressor engines are in each county.

“[The engines] are going to need to be retrofitted in order to comply with the new rules and these grants are going to help with the cost of that,” Morrow said.

Despite prolific activity associated with the Barnett Shale, the incentive to cooperate could be higher in East Texas where the state also offered 33 other counties the same retrofit reimbursement deal.

Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) authored Senate Bill 2000, which freed up the funding. Eltife’s district managed to ward off non-attainment classification in 1997 when the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced additional eight-hour ozone standards. If East Texas counties remain in attainment, the region could avoid the same set of motor vehicle restrictions currently hinging on the next Metroplex air quality assessment.

“This legislation set up a grant program to help reduce emissions in our area on certain compressors in the oil field by over 96 percent,” Eltife said in a statement. “This is very important in helping us keep our area in attainment.”

In 1990, the EPA classified nine counties surrounding Dallas and Fort Worth as “moderate” ozone non-attainment, meaning those counties failed to meet national air quality standards. Since the original federal designation, Metroplex non-attainment areas have failed to achieve compliance by deadlines mandated in 1996 and 1999, and the EPA reclassified the region as “serious.” After an extension was granted in 1999, the pending DFW attainment date was set for November of this year.

Several important federal concessions are tied to an area’s EPA air quality attainment status, including transportation funding, but whether or not gas operators in the Dallas/Fort Worth area will choose to participate in the grant program remains to be seen.

The grant system was designed to serve as a partial reimbursement of costs associated with the installation of new NOx reduction systems. So far, retrofitting remains voluntary, emissions reductions must be verified in order to receive grant money and the state only provides a 75 percent reimbursement of capital costs.

And because much of local gas exploration is taking place near businesses and homes, some Barnett Shale drillers are already paying out of pocket to address noise and safety concerns.

Three local operators did not immediately respond to requests for interviews regarding the compressor engine grant program Friday.

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