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State Officials Snub Angry Residents' Town Hall Meeting

DISH, Texas, Oct. 11 — State inspectors cited no violations in response to almost 99 percent of citizen complaints about natural gas drilling and hydrofracking operations in the Barnett Shale region in the first seven months of 2010, according to documents obtained through the Texas Public Information Act.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) records show 256 complaints — more than one a day — about odor and health effects from January 1 to July 23 in Tarrant, Denton, Wise and other counties in the Barnett Shale formation. Yet only three violations were found, all at the same site in Wise County.

Further details of the documents obtained by EARTHWORKS' Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project will be released Wednesday, Oct. 13 at a town hall meeting in Dish, Denton County. The meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Dish Town Hall, 5413 Tim Donald Road.

The meeting was called to discuss TCEQ's complaint response system, seven months after it was instituted in response to a community health survey that found hundreds of residents are suffering from headaches, nausea, breathing problems and other symptoms associated with exposure to the chemicals used in drilling and fracking. Wilma Subra, a Louisiana chemist and recipient of a MacArthur “genius” award, will discuss her analysis of the TCEQ documents.

TCEQ will be notably absent.

Executive Director Mark Vickerey was repeatedly asked to attend or to send a representative to hear residents' concerns. He declined, even though the agency is holding its own “open house” in Arlington — 43 miles away — on Sunday, Oct. 16, to show off the equipment it is using to monitor the air in the Barnett Shale Region. There'll be an empty chair at the town hall meeting in case anyone from TCEQ shows up — and to remind residents of the agency s lack of response to complaints.

“I'm not sure what good the equipment does when their response to a complaint from a real person is to take no action,” says Sharon Wilson of the Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project. “Not showing up to the meeting is in keeping with their lack of response to the problems we have documented.”

One of the complaints received by TCEQ reads: “The odor was so strong my 7-year old was vomiting.” Another says: “We were surrounded by horrible odors that caused headaches and heart palpitations. We had to leave home for the night.” In both cases, the state's investigation found no violation.

“Such a small number of citations and violations when compared to the more than 250 complaints, odor complaints and health impacts are unacceptable,” says Subra's analysis of the complaints. “A mechanism needs to be devised to reduce and address the human health impacts associated with the operations of the Barnett shale gas.”

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