January 13, 2011

Bossier police jurors have been wrestling with the issue of noise control for more than a year. And next week, they once again have an opportunity to vote on a proposal setting standards for how loud is too loud and for how long.

The Police Jury anticipates noisy compressors related to exploration of the Haynesville Shale natural gas formation. In the shorter term, there’s the issue of noise arising from residential and commercial growth into rural areas.

Despite those concerns, police jurors Jan. 5 delayed adoption of a noise control law to take into account further recommendations from their consultant. No harm in a little more delay. For Bossier must get it right because the implications are far-reaching. The law would go beyond natural gas compressors and also regulate noise from planes, motor vehicles, watercraft, construction sites, businesses, residences and most anything else than generates sound.
Also, Caddo — which is helping pay the cost of the consultant’s work — will be following Bossier’s lead. Caddo Parish commissioners are expected to discuss the issue next week.

At the forefront of Bossier’s current discussions is whether the sound level should be measured at the location of the receptor — the person hearing the sound — or at the person’s property line. The question is crucial because a sound deemed too loud at the property line, for example, might not be as loud at the property owner’s business or residence.

The Louisiana Oil & Gas Association argues that the sound level should be measured at or near the receptor.

A consultant for Chesapeake Energy recommends that the sound be measured at least 10 feet from the receptor and on the side where the level is most representative of the sound’s source. Noise levels should be established based on the nearest noise-sensitive area rather than the property line, CenterPoint Energy argues.

The advantage of measuring the sound level at the property line is that it allows for possible expansion on or development of property near the noise’s source. The disadvantage is that it could cause an undue financial burden on the owner of the sound’s source. Indeed, noise mitigation would add to the cost of exploring the Haynesville Shale, which one attorney says already exceeds the expense of exploring other areas because the natural gas here is so deep.

Measuring noise at the property line “is in stark contrast to most noise ordinances and regulation, which are typically designed to protect an existing, occupied structure or current land use from excessive sound levels rather than some potential, future scenario,” CenterPoint Energy says in correspondence with the parish. “Further, state and federal environmental regulations and law have almost uniformly established the ‘existing condition’ as the baseline measure…”

Au contraire, says Bob Andres, technical adviser for Noise Free America and president of Oshex Associates, a noise control company. “Typically, noise is measured at the property line of the noise-sensitive receptor since, logically, the property owner has the right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ of the entire property.”

Bossier’s consultant notes that the parish’s noise proposal is written to protect the quality of life on a person’s entire property. Fort Worth, Texas, (think Barnett Shale) and New Jersey have used the property line standard.

“Air and water pollutants are controlled at the source. Why should noise be treated any differently?” Bossier’s consultants ask.
It shouldn’t. The noise ordinance should fit hand in glove with development of a parish’s master plan, the latter of which could be used to prevent any issues from arising from future scenarios.