Barnett Shale fracked gas wells tested, no harmful emissions

Beacon E&P tested 5 Barnett Shale fracked wells, compared against baseline testing from 2012

A battery of air tests during the simultaneous hydraulic fracturing of five Barnett Shale natural gas wells and the subsequent initial flowback period is one of the largest scale air testing projects of its kind.

Barnett Shale

By Ed Ireland, Ph.D., executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council.

Modern Geosciences, a respected environmental testing firm that has been doing quarterly and monthly air testing for the Town of Flower Mound for six years, conducted the project. The air studies in Mansfield were requested by the operator of the wells, Beacon E&P, a Colorado-based company that has offices in Fort Worth and operations in the Barnett Shale region in North Texas.

The results demonstrate that hydraulic fracturing does not produce harmful levels of air emissions.

When asked why Beacon E&P conducted the tests, George Straughan, with Beacon E&P said, “We conduct our operations utilizing industry best practices, we expect our impact on the environment to be benign, and we wanted to demonstrate it through measurement.”

In order to have a baseline to evaluate the air tests during hydraulic fracturing, Modern Geosciences had conducted air tests on the same pad sites before any wells had been drilled (“Baseline Ambient Air Quality Evaluation”, May 3, 2012).

At that time, a number of VOCs were measured during the baseline testing, including benzene, carbon disulfide and toluene, none of which exceeded any health-based levels, but all of which “can be found in the urban environment due to both natural and anthropogenic contributions” (page 9).

Modern Geosciences also conferred with the City of Mansfield, where the wells are located, on possible monitoring approaches and incorporated their preferences into the design of the testing program.

The first air tests occurred while two frac crews were hydraulically fracturing five natural gas wells between November 20, 2014 and December 1, 2014. The second round of tests were conducted during initial same flowback operations of the five wells between December 17, 2014 and December 24, 2014.

The monitoring was performed outside the pad site with an emphasis on the 600 foot radius which is the setback required by the City of Mansfield between natural gas wells and houses and other protected structures. Monitoring included an evaluation of volatile organic compounds, suspended particulate matter, and methane.

Modern Geosciences noted the following results during the hydraulic fracturing operations:

  • Concentrations of benzene, toluene, and p‐xylene were noted above the equipment detection limits. Other VOCs were identified and estimated as concentrations below the lowest calibration level.None of the observed VOCs were noted above the comparison criteria(page 8).
  • Detectable concentrations of TSP (total suspended solids) were noted during the monitoring events. The highest TSP was noted near the background sample point during traffic conditions. The highest tVOCs result was noted downwind of the padsite within the 600’ radius. The highest methane concentrations were noted upwind crosswind of the pad site. The observed results did not exceed the respective screening goals (page 8).

During the initial flowback period, Modern noted the following:

  • Detectable concentrations of methane (up to 1 ppmv) were noted during the monitoring events. The highest methane concentrations were noted downwind and crosswind of the pad site, as well as at the background point. The observed results did not exceed the respective screening goals(page 8).
  • Discrete air samples were collected from each of the three adjacent sampling points and the off‐site ambient location. Modern compared the sampling results to the lower of the AMCVST or ESLST criteria. Concentrations of various VOCs were noted above the equipment detection limits or identified at estimated concentrations below the lowest calibration level. None of the observed VOCs were noted above the regulatory comparison criteria (page 8).

Beacon E&P provided the residents of Mansfield, Texas, and everyone interested in understanding the process of hydraulic fracturing, a valuable service by sponsoring these air tests.

There have been many allegations about negative health effects of hydraulic fracturing and flowback but these real-world tests during and after the hydraulic fracturing of five Barnett Shale natural gas wells is strong evidence that such allegations are unfounded.

Ed Ireland, Ph.D. is the executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council. Ireland holds a B.S. in economics from Midwestern State University, a Ph.D. in economics and statistics from Texas Tech University, and is the former head of the Economics Department at Clemson University in South Carolina.

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