Austin — Late last week Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-21) introduced SB 1868 to require the Texas Railroad Commission to hold a public hearing in the county where an operator seeks to permit an oil and gas well within 1,500 feet of a school or daycare. In 2015, HB 40 effectively removed communities’ power to govern the oil and gas industry within their boundaries in favor of regulation by the state Railroad Commission and Texas Council on Environmental Quality.
“When the Railroad Commission can’t be bothered to inspect oil and gas wells on school grounds it’s clear that something needs to change,” said Earthworks Gulf Regional Organizer Sharon Wilson. She continued, “that’s why we’re grateful to Senator Zaffirini for acting to encourage outcomes that keep Texas children safe, and to ensure their parents have a voice in the process. Our children’s health and education demand no less.”
SB 1868 would apply to child-care facilities as defined by Human Resources Code (42.002), public schools and private schools with at least 100 students enrolled and that offer instruction at a single location. According to Railroad Commission and federal Department of Education data, in Texas there are more than 221,000 children enrolled at 927 schools and daycares within 1,500 feet of an active oil or gas well.
Currently the Railroad Commission grants well permits without notifying the community “host” as a matter of course. The Denton Record Chronicle this Sunday reported that the Railroad Commission has no record of inspecting wells on the grounds of Guyer High School in two years or more.
Research in Texas and around the country shows that oil and gas facilities pollute the air with hazardous chemicals like benzene and smog-precursors. EPA modeling links more than 144,000 asthma attacks in Texas children to oil and gas pollution. Oil and gas operations are major industrial facilities with all the associated truck traffic and noise.
“How can the Railroad Commission allow the oil and gas industry to endanger our children? They're our most precious resource,” said Laredo resident Tricia Cortez. She continued, “Our elected officials should pass SB 1868 to require the Railroad Commission to hold the oil and gas industry accountable. Royalty checks shouldn't come at the expense of our kids' health and education.”