Monitor online in Rhome

By Brandon Evans | Published Wednesday, January 16, 2013

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The state has activated another nose on the ground in Wise County.

The latest monitor to record the air quality in the Barnett Shale went online late last month in Rhome. It’s the 11th active automated gas chromograph (auto GC) monitor in the Barnett Shale, and the second in Wise County. The other is in Decatur.

The new monitor is in the 600 block of County Road 4651, behind the Ellis subdivision and near the city’s water treatment plant.

“The additional monitors are being installed to further evaluate air quality impacts and address continued public health concerns due to natural gas drilling emissions,” said Terry Clawson, spokesperson for Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

The new monitor in Wise County will test for 46 hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds, just like the one installed in 2010 beneath the water tower near Decatur High School.

The monitoring sites were selected by a focus group that included citizens and representatives from environmental groups, universities, the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The site records hourly and daily data on a host of hazardous chemicals sometimes related to the oil and gas industry – benzene, xylene, methane and methylcyclopentane, to name but a few.

“A suction pump pulls samples directly out of the air,” said Brian Rice, an employee with Orsat, an environmental company that contracts with TCEQ. “The sample is then processed through the whole system. It’s collecting data 40 minutes of every hour.”

The monitor is also useful to track precursors to the creation of ground-level ozone, or smog. Wise County was designated in non-attainment for federal air quality standards by the EPA for high levels of ground-level ozone, but critics argued there was no monitor in the county.

“There is a lot of griping about them giving us this designation when we don’t even have a monitor in the county,” said Rhome Mayor Chris Moore. “Maybe this will help us not be in the classification.”

Ground-level ozone forms during the hot months of the year when nitrogen oxide or volatile organic compounds cook in the sun. High levels of the stuff are known to damage or kill livestock or vegetation and cause respiratory problems in people, particularly the young and the elderly.

A county or area placed in non-attainment typically means more expensive auto emissions testing, lower speed limits and extra cost for permitting certain types of industry. Wise was officially added last May.

Former Wise County resident Tim Ruggiero served on the advisory board that recommended sites for the monitors.

“(They) included places mostly near high schools and elementary schools, and places with higher concentrations of children or people in general,” he said. “I think the air monitors are more in the category of window dressing. There’s always some level of emissions.”

Ruggiero knows first hand the potential for damage of pollution caused by reckless oil and gas drilling practices. He saw the value of his property in Allison, a small, rural, community in east Wise County, drop by almost 75 percent within a year after a company began drilling on his 10-acre property in 2009. He also helped start a not-for-profit company called Shale Test that provides environmental testing for low-income residents.

Several Wise County residents in the last few years have suffered ailments possibly related to pollution tied to the industry. Another family in the Allison community was forced to flee their home to escape the pollution that was making them suffer from headaches, nosebleeds, rashes and memory loss.

Active gas wells in the Barnett Shale have grown from 3,500 in 2004 to more than 14,700 today.

View the data from the new monitor at the Texas TCEQ website at Click on the “AutoGC Data” under “Rhome Seven Hills Road” to view air quality data by date and time. The link to the data from the monitor at Decatur’s Thompson Street monitor is also found at the above website.

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