Texas proposes new rules for gas, oil drillers

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality proposed new rules Wednesday for oil and gas drilling permits to beef up regulations and better protect air quality in the Barnett Shale region in North Texas.

The agency is proposing to change the air emission limits on drilling sites that would focus more on toxic chemicals most associated with natural gas drilling, including benzene and toluene, as well as require gas producers to sample natural gas compressor engines more stringently to make sure they are running properly, agency officials said.

"The tremendous expansion of drilling in the Barnett Shale, in and around urban areas, required our agency to take a closer look at the potential impacts and protective measures that could be instituted to protect the public health around these operations," agency Chairman Bryan Shaw said.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is also rewriting its rules on oil and gas activities.

The state environmental agency put out a draft of its proposed rules in April and then incorporated more than 140 comments from representatives from the energy industry, environmental groups, the EPA and the city of Fort Worth, according to Anne Inman in the agency's air permits division.

The agency has taken heat for a slow response to concerns about air pollution from gas wells.

Earlier this year, the agency admitted suppressing test results showing higher-than-normal levels of benzene and other toxic compounds at sites in Fort Worth.

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