As monitoring emissions has been an ever-growing focus for professionals involved with industrial processes, companies are continuously looking for resources that will help achieve sustainable practices to benefit the environment, without having to stop production and grapple with downtime.
Fugitive Emissions Journal had the pleasure of speaking with Cameron Dews, Harris County Pollution Controls Services (PCS) Air Permitting Specialist concerning his work in pollution control, the monitoring programs offered in Harris County, and the importance of bridging the relationship between the public and the industrial sector as the industry continues in this transitional period.
By Shopia Ketheeswararajah and Sara Mathov
In the Beginning
After receiving a degree in Environmental Science at Baylor University, Dews started working as an environmental investigator with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). He gained experience working closely on environmental investigations and conducting permit reviews and site walk-throughs. Thereafter, Dews began his career with Harris County, first in the emergency response department and later, in the air permitting department.
“My experience as an air permit specialist has provided me with a great opportunity to see the industry from a regulatory perspective. Working with Harris County, specifically, has allowed me to look at the bigger picture as I am able to assess and then determine what is needed for facilities to maintain their compliance with the prescribed guidelines and mandates,” revealed Dews. “Initially, it was my love of being outdoors that made me excited to go to work each day. Now, I have a passion for mending the relationship between the public and the industry by providing detailed and reliable information.”
A Dynamic Role
Dews is a technical specialist and expert on TCEQ’s air permitting requirements and the Texas Administrative Code. His knowledge and industry experience with industrial emissions enables his work in assessing air permit applications. He also handles special requests from the County Attorney’s office to devote time to further investigation of facilities.
To verify air permitting applications and regulatory requirements, there are federal rules and state rules that must be followed. These are typically used by the field investigators and act as guidelines to determining the procedures and processes required by each facility.
“Providing guidelines on reducing emissions or enforcing environmental rules is a crucial aspect of air permitting. This practice ensures that companies are upholding their end of the permit. When a company agrees to operate within a certain set of parameters, the air permitting department’s focus is to monitor the company, record any changes, and let the community members know. This is a vital process in bridging the gap between the community and the industry. This resource involves companies in the community’s concerns, which in return assists the company in satisfying those needs.”
The Texas Administrative Code and the TCEQ are considered excellent resources to work with as they provide pertinent information to the state. They are good examples of guidelines that can be followed to monitor facilities across multiple states, or even on a global basis.
Harris County PCS has several monitoring programs used to detect emissions. Complaints are typically phoned into the department and distributed to the appropriate field investigation team. From stationary monitoring to emergency response, these programs are designed to monitor different emissions.
“The stationary monitoring program aids with identifying volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. Harris County also has various ozone stations where different communities can measure how its ozone is being affected,” explained Dews. The surveillance and monitoring section maintain these projects, with the addition of a mobile monitoring unit; a van that has different instruments used towards monitoring ozone, VOCs, and other air contaminants. “This allows for regular monitoring throughout the Harris County area as the mobile unit can travel through different routes in varying communities.”
The emergency response (ER) team responds to a different side of identifying emissions. “If there is a spill, or an explosion and the event releases emissions, the ER department responds. Once the ER team arrives on-site, samples are collected and brought back to lab to accurately determine that the correct information is being relayed to the public. The goal is to monitor and then control the fugitive emissions.”
One of the most used monitoring programs is optical gas imaging cameras (OGI). These cameras assist with performing daily checks to monitor processes and LDAR. Using OGI and LDAR technology provides personnel the ability to pinpoint where the leaks can be mitigated. It makes maintaining a healthy system easier than it has been in previous years. “Companies are also looking into using drone technology more often now, as it gives personnel an aerial viewpoint,” added Dews.
The various monitoring programs work well together to mitigating unwanted emissions. “By working as a team, personnel can share knowledge and expertise based on on-site experience. As these programs perform as a system, each department is integral to the overall success of our mission.”
“By working as a team, personnel can share knowledge and expertise based on on-site experience.”
Although a large effort is made to allocate resources, there are times when a lack of resources prohibits some companies from meeting their air permitting requirements. This can arise for several reasons such as an inability to acquire specific technologies, or lack of knowledge on how to make the systems and processes more efficient.
Dews mentioned that the relationship between the industry and the community could also be a tribulation of meeting requirements. “Repairing the relationship between these two sectors involves ensuring that information from the industry is shared in a transparent way. This will allow people to have a better understanding of the operations taking place in the community. While maintaining this relationship may be delicate, it is not impossible,” Dews shared.
The Future of the Industry – Implementing Sustainability
In terms of alternative energy production for general consumption, Dews believes that the industry is in a transitionary state. While the oil & gas industry will maintain its relevancy to its consumers, there are several other energy sources to pay attention to. “The use of wind turbines and solar panels is a great alternative source for applications which generally operate on oil & gas. If we take the energy from the sun during the day and power businesses during the night, where the demand for energy is at a minimum, this cycle can be implemented in other things, such as streetlights or even monitoring programs that we have,” expressed Dews.
“In the next few years, we might see a movement towards more solar energy, more efficient work, and products. We will see new technology that will help us understand data and new methods and process that will allow us to recycle products better. There is a lot of focus on improving fugitive emissions and resources that go into the upkeep of emissions. Now there is more attention to detail which will empower production and in return, begin mending the relationship between the industry, the community, and the environment,” concluded Dews.