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How the Texas gas boom affects community health and safety


In the last decade, hydraulic fracturing and other new drilling technologies have turned North Texas into the leading shale gas-producing area in the country. But the drilling boom has brought with it serious concerns over the health and environmental impacts of an industry that uses large volumes of toxic chemicals in close proximity to Texas communities. The search for deposits of shale gas is spreading to other regions of Texas, raising the question of whether the state is adequately protecting its citizens and its resources.

This investigation by the Earthworks’ Texas Oil and Gas Accountability Project concludes that the answer is “No.”

We have compiled and collected data on the serious health effects of gas drilling, hydraulic fracturing (e.g., fracking) and production on Texans throughout the Barnett Shale; water contamination and depletion; air pollution and other impacts. We have also documented that the state’s present regulations, laws and enforcement policies are far too weak. Not only are the resources for dealing with the health and environmental impacts of gas production insufficient to meet the scale of the boom, but state regulators consistently downplay the risks, take sides with industry against landowners, and respond to complaints feebly, if at all. This report presents case studies of how this denial, complacency and bureaucratic inaction are disrupting the lives of families and communities.

Too often citizen testimonies of health effects or evidence gathered by citizens, as in this report, are dismissed as anecdotal evidence and as long as each case is treated as an isolated incident the larger pattern is ignored. But when so many citizens across almost two dozen counties report similar complaints and symptoms associated with gas drilling, something is wrong. More thorough research is needed to determine if drilling and fracking can be done more safely and under what conditions and locations they should or should not be permitted. At the same time immediate action is warranted to protect public health and the environment.

We recommend:

  • The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality must significantly step up its currently inadequate efforts to protect public health by strictly enforcing emission limits from oil and gas exploration and production equipment.
  • The Texas Railroad Commission, long the oil and gas industry’s lapdog, must become a watchdog. The Railroad Commission must adopt rules that provide the public with full public disclosure of oil and gas drilling and fracking fluids. To protect surface and groundwater resources from oil and gas contamination, the Commission must implement rules requiring closed-loop drilling systems and water-based drilling fluids.
  • The Texas Water Development Board must exercise its authority to evaluate groundwater resources and the impact that hydraulic fracturing withdrawal is having on groundwater resources. The agency must implement rules that require recycling of flowback water.
  • Authority to regulate air emissions from oil and gas exploration and production equipment should be overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA should oversee permitting of existing and future point sources through a federal advisory commission that includes citizen representation. The agency must also identify the sources of methane contaminants in groundwater.

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