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Air quality and the Eagle Ford: a Q&A with Peter Bella, AACOG natural resources director

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Peter Bella

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So what impact would the Eagle Ford have on air quality here?

So with the Eagle Ford, we're looking how can we influence development of the shale so that it is as clean as it can possibly be. The ominous history is that the drilling and extraction process is generally powered by diesel engines and generators. In very recent years, when you look at the diesel engine use for energy generation in the shale play — because a lot of them are using electric drills powered by diesel generators — we need to look at how to improve the engines, the pumps, the generators, the compressors. All the diesel-powered equipment out there represents the potential for a lot of NOx to be produced. And right now, that's what keeps me awake at night.

How applicable is the Enviro study on the Haynesville shale, which projects a major increase in ozone precursors there? That estimation in the Haynesville study shows as many as a 17 ppb increase, and we can't afford 1 ppb. Sure it was very localized in the Haynesville study, but like I say we just need one (ppb). I'm not pinning the blame on the oil and gas industry. It's not like if we go into non attainment it's necessarily the fault of the oil and gas industry. It's not. It's all of these other precursors too. All of it together makes a soup. It's just when I look at the management process, we've done pretty good for years with business as usual. Now when we essentially add what is like a new category, a new type, on top of what we already have, I know that we need to get industry on board.

So one of our major goals right now is to create what is called an emissions inventory. We need to understand what the engines are, what the duty cycles are, what the fuel is, what the load factors are. We need to be able to understand what the processes are at each one of those drilling and extraction sites so that we can give accurate estimations for what the impact is on ozone in the San Antonio region.

Where does that effort stand? Well, that's why you see me giving these reports based on the Haynesville studies. We don't know that much about the Eagle Ford yet. It's a tough business. My guess, my hope, is that all in all the oil and gas industry will be willing to put their best foot forward in Texas. Between the Gasland movie and a lot of other controversy — there are places right now in New York where cities won't let fracking occur because they're worried about groundwater and a lot of other things — there are a lot of places where there are shale formations that industry is not met with hospitality. In Texas that's a very different story. In Texas, because we have that history of hospitality with the oil and gas industry, we've put out the welcome mat. That's good, but I also hope it means they want to make sure it means things go well here, that there are no issues that create a public controversy. And I think that could be a great benefit. That will help us work with them, talk to them, and say it's to their advantage to get a reliable emissions inventory so we really know about what the impacts look like. So we can accurately portray in context what their emissions look like.

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