Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Fracking boom in Texas and N.M. brings in money but also overwhelms local resources and increases pollution

Traffic in the Permian Basin begins early. (Photo by Jerrod Foster, The Texas Tribune)
An oil boom in West Texas and New Mexico has made the U.S. again the world's top oil producer, but it's increasing local air and water pollution and has caused growing pains for communities struggling with the onslaught of new oil workers. Towns all over the region are facing housing shortages that have made prices soar and increased problems like traffic accidents and homelessness, according to an investigation by several news outlets.

West Texas is no stranger to oil, but hydraulic fracturing operations have pulled in record hauls. "In December, companies in the Permian Basin — an ancient, oil-rich seabed that spans West Texas and southeastern New Mexico — were producing twice as much oil as they had four years earlier, during the last boom. Forecasters expect production to double again by 2023," report Kiah Collier of The Texas Tribune and Jamie Smith Hopkins and Rachel Leven of the Center for Public Integrity. The increase in Permian production is projected to account for 80 percent of growth of the world's oil supply over the next seven years.

The boom boosts state coffers, but residents worry they'll pay the price with more pollution. Conservationists and climate scientists worry that it will worsen climate change by increasing the world's reliance on fossil fuels. The Tribune and CPI, in collaboration with Newsy and The Associated Press, spent eight months investigating the local impact of the boom. They found that increased production, as usual, hasn't increased local tax revenues fast enough to address the needs triggered by more residents. That means packed schools and hospitals and police forces spread too thin. The state often fails to object when drillers pollute the air, too. "Unpermitted air pollution is higher in West Texas counties than in much of the state, and regulators are giving operators the OK to burn off far more excess natural gas there than was allowed a decade ago," Collier, Hopkins and Leven report. They also found that the industry is using water at an unsustainable rate.

Though Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the boom will help the U.S. depend less on foreign energy (the U.S. is a net importer), much of the oil isn't staying in America. "The U.S. sold 230 million more barrels of crude to other countries in the first half of this year than it did three years earlier," Collier, Hopkins and Leven report. Most of that was made possible by the increase in Permian production. Meanwhile, "the country will keep buying oil from other parts of the world indefinitely even as it sells more abroad, the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts." The U.S. is exporting much Permian oil because U.S. refineries, built for heavier oil, can't handle the lighter weight of Permian oil.

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