Dave Fehling is the Houston-based broadcast reporter for StateImpact. Before joining StateImpact Texas, Dave reported and anchored at KHOU-TV in Houston. He also worked as a staff correspondent for CBS News from 1994-1998. He now lectures on journalism at the University of Houston.
Trucks at a state-authorized disposal site in Frio County, Texas
Acids used for drilling oil and gas wells are safe according to the oil and gas industry, but companies have been looking for better alternatives to protect workers and the environment.
The concern over acids was highlighted this week in Pennsylvania, where there’s been a boom in drilling for natural gas. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection said it found that Halliburton Energy Services had for years failed to handle hydrochloric acid as a hazardous waste when it trucked it to an unauthorized disposal site. The state said the “acidic waste” had come from “various gas well sites.”
Acid solutions are trucked to drill sites and injected deep underground
Read about the history of oil drilling in Texas and you’ll find references to how wildcatters would pour barrels of hydrochloric acid into their wells. The acid would eat through underground rock formations and allow more oil to flow up the well.
That was decades ago. While a lot has changed in the drilling industry since then, using acid has not. It’s only gotten bigger. And in Texas, no one seems to have any idea of just how much hydrochloric, acetic, or hydrofluoric acid is being pumped into the ground.
“During my years with Shell, we did not have to go to the Railroad Commission [the state oil and gas regulator] to get approval for an acid job,” said Joe Dunn Clegg, a retired engineer who now teaches at the University of Houston. In his well drilling class, you’ll learn all about what the oil and gas industry calls acidizing.
Some of the non-profit environmental and wildlife groups involved in the projects are not happy.
Nine groups including Ducks Unlimited, the Galveston Bay Foundation, and the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter met last week with GLO staff members. The groups had expressed their opposition in a letter sent this past December to Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.
Air pollution monitoring station at Croix Memorial Park in Manvel
At the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), they’re very familiar with a park in Manvel, a small town 15 miles south of downtown Houston. It’s a place where prairie land is quickly being turned into subdivisions but it still retains a rural appearance.
In Croix Memorial Park, between a soccer field and a playground, is one of the TCEQ’s air pollution monitoring stations, one of over 20 spread across the Houston area.
“So the question is why, what’s different about that site,” said David Brymer, director of air quality at the TCEQ. “It’s south of town. Houston’s not really known for consistent north winds that would blow the urban core emissions towards that monitor. “
Texas has by far the most miles of natural gas pipelines and is the state with the most accidents. But according to federal pipeline regulators, Texas also grants the most exemptions (along with Florida) regarding who must notify a pipeline or utility company before digging.
Federal data show that in the past decade, 11 percent of serious pipeline accidents in Texas were caused by work crews doing excavations. According to CenterPoint Energy, a Houston comnpany that distributes natural gas to over 3 million customers in Texas and other states, over half the damage to its pipelines last year was “caused by an excavator failing to Call 811.”
Nadia Siddiqui is a policy analyst at the Texas Health Institute
Texas needs to do more as a state to prepare its most vulnerable communities for the impact of climate change according to health researchers.
“We may face the ‘perfect storm’ in the State of Texas where the most vulnerable, low income communities, high-diversity communities are very disproportionately impacted and affected,” said Nadia Siddiqui.
ExxonMobil's refinery in Baytown is one of the nation's biggest
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has begun the process to begin issuing air pollution permits for industrial plants that emit greenhouse gases linked to climate change. The permits will be based on new rules put in effect in 2011 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in response to research on global warming.
It’s probably not a result Texas Governor Rick Perry had in mind back in 2010 when he and the Texas attorney general held a news conference. They said the new rules would be so costly to industry that they would be disastrous for the Texas economy.
“My office has worked closely with Attorney General Abbott to consider all options to challenge this seriously flawed EPA finding…to head off an economic calamity…We are challenging the EPA’s findings for CO2 and other greenhouse gases,” Perry said in February 2010. Continue Reading →
These days in Texas, you can’t go far without running into a billion-dollar industrial plant or drilling operation backed by some very non-Texan investors.
Dave Fehling / StateImpact
OCI's Omar Darwazah
“We’re very big fans of Texas,” said Omar Darwazah, a corporate development executive with OCI.
OCI is a fertilizer chemical company now based in the Netherlands but with roots in Egypt. A couple years ago it bought and rejuvenated an ammonia-methanol plant in Beaumont. A few weeks ago it announced it was building a new methanol plant next door that will cost at least $1 billion.
“And that’s the largest in the United States and arguably the largest in the world,” Darwazah told StateImpact.