Karnes County, Texas
George is a retiree and a veteran living in rural Texas who, along with his family and community, is experiencing the health impacts caused by air pollution from the oil and gas industry. George’s is just one story that reveals pollution from the booming industry is causing an increase in asthma attacks and increased risks of cancer and respiratory diseases not only in urban areas but in America’s rural countryside as well.
George is a long-time resident of Karnes County, Texas, part of the Eagle Ford Shale, and one of the top oil producing counties in the state. His home is one of the many in the community that sits next to an oil and gas facility. George is a retiree, a veteran, and is dedicated to his community by helping out at the local school as a substitute teacher. George’s family also lives in Karnes. Among his concerns are how the pollution from the oil and gas industry will not only affect him but also his family. “We just don’t know what we’re breathing, what it can cause, and how much of it is in the air we breathe.”
Before the oil and gas boom in the Eagle Ford Shale starting in 2011, George enjoyed the serene and quaint feel of his home and property in Karnes. The number of wells in Karnes has grown by over 11 times in just the past five years. “I spent years cultivating a peaceful place to retire, where my grandkids could play outside and enjoy the wandering deer, but after the boom, everything changed. I no longer feel safe, the flare behind my home is loud and I often notice odors. I looked forward to the economic boost this industry would bring to me and my community but I never imagined the impacts would be so harmful to my health, the air, and the environment overall.”
Studies in Karnes show the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as benzene, which can cause respiratory issues, dizziness, sore throats, and headaches. VOCs also have indirect health impacts when they form chemical reactions with nitrogen oxides in sunlight and creates ozone smog. George has often noticed smog in Karnes stating, “I first noticed the haze or smog in San Antonio, but in the last couple years I’ve noticed it here in Karnes.”
“We’re not a big city, I thought that only happened in urban areas, not in places like Karnes.”
In the years since the boom in the Eagle Ford Shale, George has experienced sinus issues, headaches, and fatigue. In an air and health report on Karnes, other community members identified similar health issues and noticed they first appeared after the oil and gas boom in Karnes. “Before all this [oil and gas development], I never used to feel like I do now–I feel tired for no reason. Sometimes I feel like my chest is heavy and it’s hard to breathe. Now I deal with sinus issues everyday, I can’t tell you what causes it, but I know I didn’t have any of these issues before they started drilling around here.” George was diagnosed with asthma before the oil and gas boom in 2011, but he reports that it was under control for a while and then got much worse when drilling increased in Karnes. “I rarely used my inhaler, now I’m on medicine and carry my inhaler with me everywhere I go. I notice that when the flare behind my house is really high, I have to use my humidifier to help me breathe better.”
George has spent the last two years submitting complaints to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). He is part of a local community group that is asking the state for better protection from pollution by having them install another air quality monitor in the area. Currently, air quality monitors are installed in areas according to population density. George and the rest of the community group argue that the state must also monitor areas with high oil and gas well density, in order to get a better sense of how oil and gas production affects local air quality.