Study: No Adverse Health Effects from Natural Gas Drilling in Fort Worth

Published August 2, 2011

Natural gas wells in Fort Worth, Texas do not threaten the health of the city’s 741,000 residents, a much-anticipated, $1 million air quality study has found.

The report, carried out by Massachusetts-based Eastern Research Group (ERG) at the request of the Fort Worth City Council, is thought to be the most comprehensive analysis of the effects of urban natural gas drilling ever undertaken.

Much of Fort Worth’s nearly 300 square miles sits atop the Barnett Shale formation in North Central Texas, one of the richest and most productive shale gas deposits in the United States.

ERG’s researchers began field testing in August 2010 and sampled 388 natural gas and gas transportation sites, including 1,000 active wells and 1,200 storage tanks. ERG obtained emissions samples from all stages of the gas-production process.

No Adverse Health Effects
Though the drilling operations are not free of maintenance problems, the study found no cause for alarm.

“Pollutants with relatively low toxicities (e.g., methane, ethane, propane, and butane) accounted for the overwhelming majority—approximately 98 percent—of the city-wide emissions,” the study found.

The study also investigated the effects of these emissions on off-site air pollution levels.

“While Fort Worth residents are exposed to these and other pollutants released from natural gas sites, the measured and estimated air pollution levels did not reach levels that have been observed to cause adverse health effects. Further, the measured benzene and formaldehyde levels in Fort Worth were not unusually elevated when compared to levels currently measured by TCEQ [the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] elsewhere in Texas,” the study found.

Anti-Energy Motivation
The ERG study confirms that environmental activists must be opposing natural gas production for reasons other than justifiable human health concerns, says Dan Simmons, director of state policy at the Institute for Energy Research.

“The greens and other activists appear to be fighting natural gas production because it is inexpensive and plentiful,” explained Simmons. “Study after study has not shown hydraulic fracturing to be environmentally harmful, but many activists would like us to think it is.

“The United States is the world’s largest producer of natural gas, thanks to technological advancements like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, which are ideally suited to extract low-cost energy in shale formation around the country,” Simmons added. 

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.