TCEQ sees no evil in current gas industry oversight. Texas family sees otherwise.
By Alan Septoff
September 23, 2010
Last year, after concerted pressure demonstrating that its non-regulation of natural gas extraction and infrastructure industry was harming its citizens, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality announced new policies to protect Texas citizens from irresponsible companies.
Eight months later, EARTHWORKS' Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project is going to hold a public meeting to review how those new policies are doing. But TCEQ doesn t want to participate.So today EARTHWORKS s Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project sent a letter to Mark Vickery, the executive director of TCEQ. It states in part:
The Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project is troubled that you do not intend to attend the upcoming public meeting in DISH to address the persistent problems with TCEQ s response to odor complaints and health concerns of residents impacted by natural gas drilling and production in the Barnett Shale region.
Through a Texas Public Information Request (PIR) we have obtained copies of all citizen complaints filed in the Barnett Shale area (Region 4) from January 1 July 23, 2010. These records show:
- A total of 281 complaints, 258 of them odor or air complaints covered by the new 12-hour response policy.
- 104 citizens, or 37 percent of the complainants, who reported health impacts.
- Only four violations were found by TCEQ three on the Ruggerio property where there has been heavy news media coverage.
Our information, not yet documented by a PIR, is that each of the TCEQ inspectors in the region has a backlog of more than 100 complaints. Clearly, these figures show that your response has been inadequate to deal with the odor problem. But as you know the problem goes far beyond complaints about odor.
Perhaps TCEQ doesn t want to review its policies because they already know how poorly they re working.
On the evening of July 25, 2010, the Parrs smelled a strong odor emanating from a frac tank at a site operated by Aruba Petroleum of Plano. They reported it to TCEQ. Investigators arrived within hours to capture air samples.
Odors were detected up to a quarter-mile from the well site. The investigator, Damon Armstrong, reported that a "plume" wafting from the tank was "visible with the naked eye." The petroleum-like odor was so intense the investigator himself felt sick in the short time he was there, noting dizziness and sore throat.
The analysis found five compounds that exceeded safe values for short-term health effects, and another 20 exceeded safe levels for long-term effects.
The investigation found elevated levels of ethane, pentane, hexane, octane, xylene and nonane, all potentially toxic chemicals.
Four days later, a medical test discovered the same chemicals inside Lisa.
"The environmental specialist ran numerous tests on me," Lisa said. "I had about 20 of the chemicals they use in the oil and gas industry in my tissues and in my blood system. Never in my life had I been so sick."
Lisa Parr's doctors told her to evacuate her house within 48 hours.
TCEQ s response? Laughably small fines. Not a cessation of operations. Not a requirement that they compensate the Parrs for their health, or their property.
When a family has to evacuate their home because of continued toxic emissions by a gas company, I think reasonable people can agree that indicates inadequate protection of the public by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
That TCEQ director Mark Vickery apparently doesn t feel the same way speaks volumes.
For more information:
- Read the Texas OGAP letter to TCEQ director Mark Vickery
- Read the Wise County Messenger story detailing the gas industry's impacts on the Parr family's health and home
- Write your Congressional representatives and urge them to close gas drilling loopholes
- Learn more about Texas OGAP.