Drilling Study Finds High Pollution Levels Near Fort Worth Schools

17 February 2011
By John Henry

FORT WORTH -- A study of the air quality around natural gas drilling sites near Fort Worth schools found significantly high levels of the pollutant carbon disulfide, a committee of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods Association reported Thursday night.

Among the committee's recommendations are that wells be set back about one mile from school boundaries to limit children's exposure to emissions of carbon disulfide, benzene and other drilling pollutants.

"Things need to be put in place to mitigate the risks," said Deborah Rogers of the league, which conducted the study for the Fort Worth school district.

In November, the school district delayed signing two mineral lease agreements until the study could be completed. The league will present its findings to school trustees Tuesday.

The report acknowledges that the results may not be entirely reliable because drilling company officials were uncooperative.

"Every time we reached out to the operators, they just put us off," Rogers said.

The report was released at a gathering of the league at Fort Worth Firefighters Hall. About 30 people attended, most of them clearly skeptical of gas drilling inside city limits.

Brian Murnahan, a Chesapeake Energy spokesman, said in an interview late Thursday that he couldn't fully comment on the study because he didn't know how the data were collected and where.

However, Murnahan said, natural gas drilling in this region is not known to create carbon disulfide.

League investigators reported using a standard set by OSHA to gauge the occupational risk of exposure to carbon disulfide.

The findings were several times higher than OSHA's short-term health benchmark for adults, the report stated.

Among the recommendations in the report are:

-- Electric drill rigs, electric compressor engines and electric motors for driving other stationary infrastructure must be used near schools.

-- Condensate/produced water tanks should be independently monitored for control of VOC emissions.

-- Vapor-recovery units should be used when appropriate.

-- No-bleed pneumatic valves and fittings should be used on pipeline networks near schools.

-- Substitutions for toxic field materials must be used near school properties when nonpolluting options are available.

-- Testing and monitoring should be carried out for the life of the wells by an independent entity. The operators should not be allowed to provide testing results. All testing should be done without the operators' prior knowledge.

"Drilling is not going away," Rogers said. "But it has got to be done responsibly. And [the league] believes it is not being done responsibly."

John Henry, 817-390-7539