DENTON (CBSDFW.COM) – Air samples taken near a gas well in Denton showed increased levels of benzene, along with other chemicals, according to data released by the Denton Drilling Awareness Group on Thursday. The data, and infrared video of vapor releases from energy company facilities, comes days before the group is expected to officially file a petition to ban the fracking process in the city.
The air testing was done in a backyard in the Vintage neighborhood on the city’s south end. The neighborhood has been a focal point for the fracking fight in Denton, with gas wells within just a few hundred feet of homes.
A California lab showed benzene readings at 6.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air. That is two points higher than the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s limits for long-term exposure risks.
CBS 11 News has asked city officials for any of their own air monitoring data from the area. A TCEQ monitoring network that the city refers visitors to on its website does not have equipment in that immediate neighborhood.
DAG also released video, using an infrared camera, of vapor releases from three facilities in the city.
The lab data showed the presence of at least eight other compounds, but none except benzene appeared to be over the limits used as a standard by the TCEQ. Benzene is an irritant to the skin, eyes and throat. It is also a known carcinogen over time.
*STORY UPDATE 9:55pm
Eagle Ridge Energy responded to the test results late Thursday, calling it “bad science.” The company referenced TCEQ tests done the same day in February, closer to the well in question, that showed levels below the long term health standard. Additional tests, done two days earlier, and one day later, also showed levels below state standards for short term health concerns. In both of those cases reports indicate testers noticed light hydrocarbon or sewer-like odors, but felt no ill effects.
Eagle Ridge did not question the accuracy of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group test, but in an email wrote that it was possible the benzene levels came from another source, including fireplaces, construction or paint.
A spokesman also said video showing what appeared to be vapor coming from well sites, was just heat.
The reaction was expected by DAG member Ed Soph, who compared the rebuttal of the results to something the tobacco industry would have offered years ago. “And until there’s bodies to count nothings done unfortunately,” Soph said. “But we want to get this banned before there are bodies to count so that people are protected.”
City council member Dalton Gregory said he was not surprised by the different results from the different air samples. Gregory said he believes Denton needs more consistent air sampling, either by the city or by operators as a requirement to do business there. “If folks know that you’re looking at what you’re doing, and they know that you’re testing what they’re doing, they’re probably going to be a little more careful about what they’re doing.”
*STORY UPDATE, MAY 5: Eagle Ridge Energy sent an extensive response to the story reported by CBS 11 on May 1. We have posted it, along with the original May 1, press release provided by the Denton Drilling Awareness Group. You can read both documents below:
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