• Railroad Commission of Texas to Issue Notice to Operators Regarding Air Emission Issues
  • March 11, 2010 | Authors: John B. Holden; Cynthia Y. Lam; Peter K. Wahl
  • Law Firms: Jackson Walker L.L.P. - Dallas Office; Jackson Walker L.L.P. - Houston Office; Jackson Walker L.L.P. - Dallas Office
  • In a public meeting on February 9, 2010, Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Victor Carrillo announced a proposal for a notice regarding air emission issues to be distributed to all oil, gas, and pipeline operators in Texas. His motion was passed unanimously. A Railroad Commission press release regarding this matter and the proposed notice may be viewed by clicking here. This notice is expected to be sent by the Railroad Commission to upstream oil and gas operators in the very near future, included in the monthly proration schedules (also known as “stripout” notices) distributed to all such operators. A similar notice is expected to be sent to pipeline operators in March in a semi-annual Railroad Commission notice. The notice will advise all recipients to diligently inspect and maintain equipment in order to control releases of emissions into the air, particularly those of volatile compounds such as benzene.

    This notice comes on the heels of considerable recent scrutiny regarding air emissions from natural gas facilities in the North Texas Barnett Shale formation. On January 27, 2010, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”) released the results of an air emission study in which it took air samples from 94 monitoring sites in the Barnett Shale region. The TCEQ reportedly found elevated benzene concentrations exceeding applicable short-term exposure benchmarks at one gas well and in the vicinity of one compressor station. The TCEQ recommended reduction of these concentrations and such reductions were reportedly achieved through equipment repairs.  In this study, the TCEQ has also identified an additional 19 monitoring sites at which it recommends further long-term monitoring and comparison with long-term exposure benchmarks. Further study of air emission in the Barnett Shale is ongoing.

    Citing Barnett Shale air issues, Chairman Carrillo stressed the importance of safe and environmentally friendly operations, including regular inspection and maintenance of facilities and equipment. Further, the Chairman urged operators to make any necessary repairs before being required to do so by the Railroad Commission. Chairman Carrillo also cited past meetings and his intent to continue to work with both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and TCEQ towards achieving practical solutions to outstanding environmental concerns.

    Operators should not be unduly troubled by this notice. In fact, Chairman Carrillo noted that, as a general rule, Texas operators have already been diligent in the maintenance of their sites and this notice would only be a “reminder” to operators to continue their current practices. Moreover, the Chairman reiterated that he continues to oppose proposals that have been made by a number of state and local elected officials for a drilling moratorium, which he explains would not be a practical solution.