DALLAS - As the federal government tightens its restrictions on acceptable levels of ozone, local environmental officials are expressing a growing level of concern.
While ozone levels are dropping overall in Texas, there is one particular region where the pollutant is apparently finding stronghold, the Barnett Shale.
The morning sun over downtown Dallas can be illuminating, in more ways than one. When pollution is bad, there is no mistaking it. But, recent testing says the air over Dallas is getting better. There have been dramatic drops in particulate matter and ozone in the past few years. Emission controls and cleaner burning engines are paying off.
But, according to preliminary results of research being released, the gains being made in the Dallas area are being offset by a curious stagnation of ozone levels west of Dallas.
"There is something unusual happening in western Tarrant County in Denton County and Johnson County and Parker County because the NOx levels in that area are not dropping the way you see in the middle of Dallas or in the areas around Houston," said Al Armendariz, the EPA regional administrator, while speaking last week at an environmental summit at the EPA headquarters in Dallas.
As regional stakeholders met to discuss beefing up their research efforts, the Barnett Shale was the recurring theme, specifically a disconcerting lack of progress in the reduction in Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), a precursor and predictor of ozone.
While Dallas has seen a dramatic drop off on ozone, research being conducted by Dr. David Allen, of the University of Texas, indicates "ground level NOx concentrations remain constant in Tarrant and Denton Counties."
Jim Schermbeck, a leading environmental activist, said he's been raising questions about elevated emissions in the Barnett Shale for years.
"The Barnett Shale stands out," he said. "We have twice the number of wells being drilled; we have new pipelines; we have new compressors. "
But, not everyone is buying it. Arlington City Councilman Mel LeBlanc said automatically placing the blame on the Barnett Shale is a predictable ploy.
"But, to hear that there's an elevated level of NOx in the Barnett Shale peaks my interest, and certainly led me to ask the question, 'Where's the evidence? Where's the proof on this?'" he said. "Nothing was produced."
Scientists agree more research needs to be done. Regardless, if the region is to meet new and stricter EPA standards, more sacrifices will be expected, and not just in the Barnett Shale.