It used to be, just a year or two ago, that you couldn’t go an entire day without seeing a story somewhere about the negative consequences of fracking. Now, it seems like there’s a new major report every few hours. The other night, for example, there was a story out that Oklahoma — where the boom in hydraulic fracturing for natural gas has been underway for several years — is experiencing a surge of small-to-medium-sized earthquakes of almost Biblical proportions. The number of recorded earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater set an all-time record in 2013, and just seven weeks into the New Year, Oklahoma is on a pace to shatter that record.
There’s increasing scientific proof that the cause of these otherwise unexplained earthquake clusters — which have occurred in Ohio and other states on the front lines of the drilling boom — is the deepwater injection of billions of gallons of fracking wastewater. Over the last three years, ever since the Josh Fox movie “Gasland” first burnished the fracking boom into the public’s consciousness, we’ve all seen videos of farmers whose kitchen faucets catch on fire, or heard heart-wrenching tales about rural residents with tainted well water.
But one other environmental hazard of fracking is just now starting to get the attention that it deserves. This week, the Center for Public Integrity, Climate News and the Weather Channel teamed up for a blockbuster report that looked on how fracking in the Eagle Ford shale formation in Texas has affected the local air quality — and more, importantly, the health of the people breathing it. Here’s an excerpt of what they found:
Since drilling came to Karnes County, Lynn Buehring’s asthma has worsened. Instead of using a breathing machine once or twice a month, she now needs it several times a week, and sometimes twice a day. She has also developed migraine headaches so intense that they’ve induced temporary blindness and brought her to the brink of unconsciousness.
The Buehrings complained to the TCEQ in 2012, prompting investigators to check out several Marathon Oil facilities near their home. At one point the emissions were so high, the investigators wrote in their report, that they “evacuated the area quickly to prevent exposure.” Marathon, a Houston-based company worth nearly $25 billion at the end of 2013, reported that it fixed the problem and was not fined.
Last summer, the air around the Buehrings’ house was so bad — Lynn described a rancid chicken stench — that she couldn’t sit outside with Shelby and watch the sunset, a nighttime ritual since they bought their house in 1995.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Shelby said. “Nobody is listening to us. They’re not going to stop, so we have to live with it or leave …. This is my home, and I hate it here.”
The health issues faced by people who live in drilling areas — not just in Texas but throughout the United States — simply don’t carry enough weight to counterbalance the financial benefits derived from oil and gas development, said Robert Forbis Jr., an assistant professor of political science at Texas Tech University.
“Energy wins practically every time,” Forbis said. “It seems cynical to say that, but that’s how states see it — promote economic development and minimize risk factors.”
The reporters found that there’s only five state air monitoring devices in the 20,000 square-mile Eagle Ford zone (none in the heart of fracking country), that drillers are expected to self-monitor the air but typically do not, that unplanned toxic air releases have increased 100 percent since 2009 while the state has cut funding for regulators.
In a second devastating installment, the same reporting combo looks at the many conflicts of interest in Texas politics. For example:
Forty-two of the body’s 181 members or their spouses own stock or receive royalties from companies active in the Eagle Ford, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of thousands of pages of financial disclosure records. Their holdings are worth as much as $9.6 million, according to a conservative estimate based on the 2012 data.
Gov. Rick Perry, who signed SB1134 soon after it landed on his desk, has collected more than $11.5 million in campaign contributions from those in the industry since the 2000 election cycle. Attorney General Greg Abbott, the favorite to win the Republican nomination for governor, has raked in more than $4 million. Since he has been in office, Abbott has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 18 times for interfering in Texas affairs.
The residents of the Eagle Ford shale region are mostly poor or middle-class, and they don’t have much political clout to fight back. That’s unfortunate, but these journalists have done quite a public service in exposing some of the airborne hazards of shale-gas drilling — which exist in fracked-over sections of America from Pennsylvania to California. If the states can’t crack down on these abuses, hopefully Washington will.
Find out more about Oklahoma’s 2013 earthquake epidemic: http://newsok.com/oklahoma-is-on-shaky-ground-earthquake-experts-say/article/3934396
Check out the blockbuster report on toxic air pollution in the Eagle Ford shale of Texas: http://stories.weather.com/fracking#chapter-70411
Read more about how the oil and gas industry have tainted Texas politics at: http://stories.weather.com/fracking#chapter-70413
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