The Dark Side of the Boom: How Natural Gas Drilling in Texas Threatens Public Health and Safety
April 15, 2011
UPDATE: news coverage
Texas has long been the capital of the U.S. oil and and gas industry. But the U.S. natural gas boom has brought a new wave of drilling activity to the state, with thousands of drilling rigs and production facilities puncturing the landscape of the region around Fort Worth, known as the Barnett Shale. The new boom and the state s industry-friendly regulatory system mean that Texas is failing to protect residents from the hazards of gas drilling and production.
That s what the Texas Oil & Gas Accountability says in a new report, Flowback: How the Texas Natural Gas Boom Affects Health and Safety. The report, available online at bit.ly/TXOGAP-flowback, finds that authorities either lack the resources to deal with the air pollution, water contamination and other problems that accompany natural gas production; are limited in their response by inadequate laws and regulations; or continue in the long Texas tradition of favoring the oil and gas industry at the expense of citizens.
Texas is just one of the places across the country where OGAP is working with communities impacted by the nation s natural gas boom. Our new report gives voice to the families and communities on the front lines of a public health crisis that is spreading from the Barnett Shale to other parts of the state. It pulls together for the first time detailed results of air and water testing as well as health effects data linking residents symptoms to toxic chemicals used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing ( fracking ).
Flowback roundly criticizes the inadequacy of policies and the response of authorities at all levels of government, but reserves its sharpest criticism for the Texas Railroad Commission: long the oil and gas industry s lapdog, (the commission) must become a watchdog.
Our report is meant to lift the veil of denial that hangs over the Texas gas patch. The reports of health and safety effects across two dozen counties are real, not coincidences or isolated examples. Current laws make it hard to tie a specific illness to a specific well, but residents of these communities know that where drilling goes, problems follow.
We make some specific recommendations for policy change at the state and federal level, but the most urgent change in Texas as elsewhere is in attitude: Regulators and elected officials must protect residents whose health and safety are threatened, rather than industry profits. Too often citizen reports of health effects from drilling are disregarded as merely anecdotes or coincidences. But when so many people, across Texas and across the country, report the same symptoms following the same industrial activities, something is wrong. If we can fix it in Texas, we can fix it anywhere.