EARTHWORKS

Report says regulators ignoring health risks of Eagle Ford

San Antonio Express-News | Jennifer Hiller

September 20, 2013
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A new report from the nonprofit environmental group Earthworks says government regulators are ignoring health risks in the Eagle Ford Shale region.

The report, “Reckless Endangerment While Fracking the Eagle Ford,” focuses on Karnes County, considered the core of the field with some of the most intense drilling. Earthworks took air samples, used an infrared camera that makes releases of methane and volatile organic compounds visible and looked at state investigations of various sites.

Authors of the Earthworks study also spoke with Karnes County residents Mike and Myra Cerny and their teenage son. Since late 2010, 18 oil wells have been drilled within a mile of their home, and the family reported deteriorating health, including headaches and nosebleeds.

“I can't put into words, because there are no words to express my anger of being placed into this hell with no escape,” Myra Cerny wrote to Earthworks in late 2012. “Each new flare or rig put up around my home leaves me standing there staring and crying.”

The Earthworks study says the rules governing oil and gas development aren't adequate to protect the public.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality disputed the report, saying it has done aerial surveys of the region and 408 investigations since Sept. 1, 2012. The agency has issued 187 notices of violation to companies working in the region.

A recent flyover in the Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin in West Texas in July and August surveyed more than 16,000 tanks in the region and found 800 with emissions, which will lead to follow-up investigations, the TCEQ said.

But the Earthworks report says the intensity of drilling and the rapid development of the Eagle Ford is cause for concern. It says close spacing of wells, often 40 acres apart, can put multiple wells near someone's home.

“It also means: long periods of time during which wells are being drilled in close proximity to their homes; the addition of other facilities such as oil processing and waste disposal sites nearby; and increased truck traffic to service the ever-growing number of wells,” the report says. “As more and more wells and facilities come into an area, it becomes more and more likely that there will be accidental, scheduled and negligent releases of large quantities of toxic air pollutants.”

The study says the Eagle Ford has been developed more intensely than the Barnett Shale in North Texas, but has not had the same level of air monitoring by the state.

The TCEQ said it has collected “several millions of data points for volatile organic compounds” in the Barnett Shale and Eagle Ford Shale.

“Overall, the monitoring data provide evidence that shale play activity does not significantly impact air quality or pose a threat to human health,” the agency said in a statement. “The TCEQ has a vigorous, effective enforcement operation in the Eagle Ford Shale, and when problems are detected, the TCEQ makes sure they are rapidly fixed.”

The report also says state investigators evacuated one site to prevent their own exposure to volatile organic compounds, but didn't warn residents nearby. The TCEQ said Marathon Oil Corp. was notified of the problem at the production site and corrected it the same day.

The TCEQ said it has contracted with the University of Texas to monitor for volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides upwind and downwind of the Eagle Ford. The Alamo Area Council of Governments is also studying regional air quality.

Tagged with: health, fracking, eagle ford shale

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