Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Investigation by 3 news organizations finds Texas lawmakers favor oil and gas frackers over health

An eight-month investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, Pulitzer-winning InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel into drilling of the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas found that lawmakers are more interested in protecting the oil and gas industry than they are in preserving the health of about 1.1 million residents, Lisa Song, Jim Morris and David Hasemyer report for InsideClimate News. (ICN graphic) 

The 400-mile-long, 50-mile-wide oil and gas field stretches "from Leon County, Texas, in the northeast to the Mexico border in the southwest," InsideClimate reports. "Since 2008, more than 7,000 oil and gas wells have been sunk into the brittle, sedimentary rock. Another 5,500 have been approved by state regulators, making the Eagle Ford one of the most active drilling sites in America."

Three oil and gas facilities "house 25 compressor engines, 10 heater-treaters, six flares, four glycol dehydrators and 65 storage tanks for oil, wastewater and condensate," InsideClimate reports. "Combined, those sites have the state's permission to release 189 tons of volatile organic compounds—a class of toxic chemicals that includes benzene and formaldehyde—into the air each year. Those three facilities also are allowed to release 142 tons of nitrogen oxides, 95 tons of carbon monoxide, 19 tons of sulfur dioxide, 8 tons of particulate matter and 0.31 tons of hydrogen sulfide per year." There are three other facilities, but little is known about "because they don't have to file their emissions data with the state."

The investigation found that "Texas' air monitoring system is so flawed that the state knows almost nothing about the extent of the pollution in the Eagle Ford. Only five permanent air monitors are installed in the 20,000-square-mile region, and all are at the fringes of the shale play, far from the heavy drilling areas where emissions are highest." Other key findings:
  • "Thousands of oil and gas facilities—including six of the nine production sites near the Buehrings' house—are allowed to self-audit their emissions without reporting them to the state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which regulates most air emissions, doesn't even know some of these facilities exist. An internal agency document acknowledges that the rule allowing this practice "[c]annot be proven to be protective."
  • "Companies that break the law are rarely fined. Of the 284 oil and gas industry-related complaints filed with the TCEQ by Eagle Ford residents between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 19, 2013, only two resulted in fines despite 164 documented violations. The largest was just $14,250. (Pending enforcement actions could lead to six more fines)."
  • "The Texas legislature has cut the TCEQ's budget by a third since the Eagle Ford boom began, from $555 million in 2008 to $372 million in 2014. At the same time, the amount allocated for air monitoring equipment dropped from $1.2 million to $579,000."
  • "The Eagle Ford boom is feeding an ominous trend: A 100 percent statewide increase in unplanned, toxic air releases associated with oil and gas production since 2009. Known as emission events, these releases are usually caused by human error or faulty equipment."
  • "Residents of the mostly rural Eagle Ford counties are at a disadvantage even in Texas because they haven't been given air quality protections—such as more permanent monitors—provided to the wealthier, more suburban Barnett Shale region near Dallas-Fort Worth." (Read more)

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