Air tests prove drilling danger, Fort Worth residents say

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by CASEY NORTON

WFAA

Posted on February 15, 2011 at 7:01 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 15 at 7:04 PM

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FORT WORTH — What's in the air you're breathing? Is it dangerous?

That's exactly what the City of Fort Worth is trying to figure out.

On Monday night, WFAA first broadcast results of testing commissioned by the city — more than 12 hours before those figures were presented to the City Council.

Out of 57 gas drilling sites tested, the study revealed that two of them were releasing more chemicals than legally allowed:

  • 11398 West Freeway
  • 2299 Mercado Drive

Both sites are very close to residential neighborhoods, and families who live in those areas say the tests prove they were right to be concerned.

Residents just up the hill from one pad site said they've been asking for better emission controls for years. The city and the drilling company have previously told them there's no reason for added measures.

But now the city's own tests give them several reasons to clear the air.

Families in Fort Worth's Oakhurst neighborhood already had concerns about gas wells and seismic testing. Cables run along the curbs.

But, now they're thinking about what's in the air around them.

"I don't know what the chemicals do to you, but I don't want to be breathing bad stuff every day, all day long," said Oakhurst resident Amy Kalb.

The city's preliminary air quality tests show high levels of pollutants coming from the nearby plant on Mercado Drive — four times higher than what's permitted.

That's what scares Libby Willis. She has been fighting for tougher regulations for three years, and doesn't like the fact that gas companies were given advance notice about the testing dates.

"That should give us even more concern about a site like Mercado, because if they were behaving and we're still getting these extraordinary levels from there, that lets us know we have a problem," Willis said.

The other site in far west Fort Worth was closer to acceptable levels, but high enough for a second round of tests.

Staff told the City Council it will ask companies for tighter restrictions and more vapor controls in the future — but it's not ready for to declare the air a hazard.

"It's a permitting issue, not necessarily a health issue," said Michael Gange, the city's assistant director of environmental services.

A final report with more than 100 new test results will be released in June.

But in the Oakhurst neighborhood, residents said they have already seen enough.

"This data appears to show that we are correct — that there are issues," Willis said.

The city is still waiting on results from more than 100 other site tests. When those come back and the data is analyzed in June, the city will determine if there is any scientific proof for health concerns.

E-mail cnorton@wfaa.com

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