• February 19, 2019

Pollution report names several local companies - Odessa American: Oil Gas

Pollution report names several local companies

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Posted: Friday, February 8, 2019 3:43 pm

The Environment Texas Research and Policy Center released a report recently showing Texas industrial facilities released more than 63 million pounds of unauthorized air pollution in 2017, and the Permian Basin is responsible for more than half of that.

Listed in the report are the top 10 malfunction and maintenance polluters for 2017, which includes two Ector County gas plants — James Lake Gas Plant and Goldsmith Gas Plant, which released 1,573,139 pounds and 1,141,200 pounds of unauthorized emissions, respectively.

Unauthorized emissions are brought about by emission events, which the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality defines as “upset events or unscheduled MSS (maintenance, startup and shutdown) activities from a common cause that result in unauthorized emissions of air contaminants.” Companies are required to report these emission events to TCEQ whenever they occur. That means all of this pollution is self-reported by these industry companies.

“There is some research shown that there’s likely underreporting going on,” Environment Texas Executive Director Luke Metzger said.

And when these companies do report emission events, it’s not often they are actually punished or fined by TCEQ. Environment Texas’ report states that TCEQ levied financial penalties against only 58 facilities in 2017, and that less than 3 percent of emission events recorded by TCEQ in the last seven years have seen enforcement orders filed against them.

“They have wide discretion, and I think their philosophy is to focus on compliance assistance and kind of work cooperatively with industry to bring them back in compliance,” Metzger said. “We think the data showed that approach is not working alone.”

One loophole companies have to avoid penalties, Metzger said, is they can prove they have met 11 different criteria to qualify for defense, such as showing the unauthorized emissions could not have been prevented, or that they did not contribute to a condition of air pollution. When filing a report, companies must select “yes” or “no” on the reporting form to indicate whether they believe they met the defense standard. The report states one ExxonMobil manager testified at trial in Environment Texas v. ExxonMobil that he checks the “yes” box for every emissions event without fail, without actually investigating or confirming they actually met the criteria.

The report goes into detail about several different chemicals that were released by gas companies in 2017. Goldsmith Gas Plant topped the list as the top emitter of nitrogen oxides during malfunction and maintenance, pumping out 167,837 pounds. The National Institutes for Health state breathing nitrogen oxides can cause several health effects, including aggravation of asthma, nausea and headaches, and can create smog when combined with volatile organic compounds and sunlight, which can cause permanent damage to lung tissue. James Lake Gas Plant released the third highest amount of nitrogen oxides at 88,383 pounds.

These same two companies showed up on the lists for the largest emitters of sulfur dioxide, which can cause acidification of soil and water and an array of respiratory problems, and hydrogen sulfide, which the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said may cause headaches, poor memory, tiredness and balance problems.

One report submitted to TCEQ by a West Texas resident on June 16, 2017 alleged emissions from James Lake Gas Plant and Seminole Gas Processing Plant in Ector and Gaines Counties was “impacting children at a summer camp,” according to the complaint. An air emission event report was taken days before that complaint was reported showing James Lake Gas Plant had released 21,249 pounds of sulfur dioxide from June 12 to June 15 of 2017, and Seminole Gas Processing Plant reported a release of 1,192,726 pounds of sulfur dioxide on June 15.

Michael Walsh, President and CEO of Canyon Midstream Partners, which owns James Lake Gas Plant, declined to comment. 

Sarah Sandberg, a spokesman with DCP Midstream, which owns Goldsmith Gas Plant, said DCP is dedicated to environmental stewardship and minimizing emissions when upsets and malfunctions occur.

“We continue to improve our operations with the goal of minimized emissions and reduced upset and malfunction events, and have seen positive results in our emission reduction trends,” Sandberg said in an email.  

Sandberg didn’t comment on the accuracy of the report, and did not provide any information to back up her claim of positive results in the company’s emission reduction trends as of press time Friday.

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