Families on the front lines of mining, drilling, and fracking need your help. Support them now!

I drove to the Haynesville Shale last Tuesday, to the Church of the Living God where the EPA was holding a community meeting. The residents in this area on the Texas-Louisiana border are still, after more than two decades, trying to get one simple thing: safe drinking water.

I first met David Hudson in 2006, not long after, “What Lies Beneath,” a story by Rusty Middleton about water contamination in DeBerry, Texas from oil field disposal wells appeared in the Texas Observer. Hudson was already a veteran in dealing with contaminated water.

Excerpt from “What Lies Beneath” – Outside of DeBerry, a small community near the Louisiana-Texas border, a group of families suffered for years from well water contaminated with salt and hydrocarbons until the leader of a local church decided to fight back. Rev. David Hudson began to make calls to regulatory agencies about an abandoned, leaking injection well in the middle of his neighborhood. We got every agency you can imagine out here, says Hudson, including EPA and even [the Texas] Parks and Wildlife [Department]. The EPA documented both saltwater leaking from the well casing and contaminated ground water. [See The DeBerry Debacle ]

As reported in the NY Times article, Texas Lawsuit Includes a Mix of Race and Water, the people in DeBerry are victims of “environmental racism.”

It was wonderful to connect with David Hudson again. I also got to see the Milbergers who drove in from Booger County to lend support and valuable technical advice. For the first time, I met Tammy Cromer-Campbell, one of my heros whose book, Fruit of the Orchard: Environmental Justice in East Texas, I keep by my bed for inspiration. Watch the trailer for Fruit of the Orchard to understand why this book parallels what we face every day in the Gas Patch. Tammy was taking pictures so I didn’t. She is working on a new book, Dying for Profit.

The following is David Hudson’s summary of the meeting:

July 19, 2011
New Storm Pregnant with LightningBy: David Hudson III, Keithville, La.

Six federal Environmental Protection Agency employees (Region 6, Dallas) and federal attorney Kenneth Holbert of the Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C., visited the Rev. David Hudson Jr. and more than 50 local residents of Panola County, Texas, on Tuesday afternoon (7/19) at the Church of the Living God, 10980 Springridge Texas State Line Road. Texas residents such as filmmaker/photographer Tammy Cromer-Campbell of Longview, local clergy and others from as far away as Wise County, Texas, and Roberson County also were in attendance.

HUD and EPA representatives came in response to grievances by local customers of the Panola-Bethany water supply, a phone conference between community members and the EPA on June 23, and a formal complaint filed by Rev. Hudson about increasing inequities and depreciation of home and property values, as well as and the presence of foreign substances inserted into the water supply by EXCO Production and their private contractors. Rev. Hudson’s complaint illustrated a correlation between gas/oil drilling activities, resulting in byproducts such as saltwater injection wells polluting our air, surface water, ground water and soil.

The meeting convened shortly after 2 p.m. with an opening prayer led by Rev. Hudson. Lead: Ground Water/UIC Program Manager Omar Martinez introduced his colleagues and proceeded to hear more details about the concerns of the contaminates present in the Panola-Bethany Public Water Supply and its perceived effects on the community. Access to clean, public water and real estate value depreciation is a seemingly, progressive, worsening issue for this community, in particular due to the fact that public water is supplied by the Wilcox- Carrizo aquifer that also supplies several private drinking water wells and springs in the area.

Residents in attendance complained of a change in color, odor and appearance of their tap water, in addition to results from private testing paid for by residents identifying a low-level presence of heavy metals such as but not limited to arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, selenium, silver and benzene, some of which are known to be toxic, cancer-causing, carcinogens. In addition to concerns about public water quality, several residents shared similar stories of disruption and diminished quality of life due to egregious drilling and transport activities conducted on a daily basis in close proximity to property owners by oil and gas producers in Panola County.

Panola County resident Eva Harris explained to Holbert that she pays for subpar public water, subsequently having few options other than to purchase bottled water suitable for drinking. In response, Holbert asked community members and EPA representatives if they felt it was fair that local residents had to pay twice for drinking water. The response was a unanimous No. He also asked if it was feasible for residents to water crops and livestock with bottled water. The response was the same. Later, Rev. Hudson made a direct correlation between contaminated, public drinking water and diminished property values in Panola County. Rev. Hudson ascertained that prospective (real estate) buyers come into the area, see the daily activity as undesirable (chiefly tractor-trailer activity) and are repulsed, causing them to shop elsewhere for property. In addition, residents expressed their frustration with the companies activities as a public nuisance.

Cancer patients present at the meeting voiced concerns of causation from drinking contaminated water from Panola-Bethany WSC. The hardship for these residents is the concern being vulnerable to the risk of infections. In addition, cancer patients are forced to purchase expensive water filtering equipment and purchase bottled drinking water. This is an extreme hardship to purchase drinking water from the WSC and bottle drinking water.

A handful of residents also expressed concerns about contamination of their private drinking water wells (some charged by the same aquifer). The EPA’s response was We don t monitor private wells. EPA representatives keyed in on five public drinking water wells operated by Panola-Bethany WSC and stated that at the next sampling of these wells by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), they will obtain a split sample and send it to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lab for testing. The EPA promised closer monitoring of these wells, in addition to identifying the source of contamination. Holbert stated this problem was a serious civil rights issue, likening it to a new storm pregnant with new lightning in terms of the core issues of energy, homes and water.

At one point during the meeting people were asked to raise their hands if they had cancer. I was too stunned to count the number of hands in the air. I was further stunned to learn that our water standards are set for healthy people only. People who are sick, have cancer or have a compromised immune system should not drink water from the tap.

Here are some pictures I took on the way home. Everywhere there are new gravel driveways with shiny pipe fences that lead to a gas well(s). Everywhere.