New Study From Gas Drilling Activists Gathers Decade of Industrial Woes in the Barnett Shale

Categories: The Environment
Flowback_logo.jpg
Natural gas activist and blogger Sharon Wilson was among the environmentalists out at Earth Day last weekend -- not far from the EPA's six-foot cardboard Al Armendariz -- and she was passing out copies of a new report she'd helped produce on gas drilling in the Barnett Shale.

Produced by the Fort Worth-based Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project, the report's called Flowback, and it gathers up a decade's worth of troubles tied to the natural gas boom around the Barnett Shale, from air pollution and water use to benzene in residents' bloodstreams. Also among the contributors to the report: Jim Schermbeck, Raymond Crawford (as seen in this week's Paper Version of Unfair Park) and Cherelle Blazer.

The report details how scattered rural families, and even entire towns, have asked regulators for help only to be "met with official denial, complacency or bureaucratic inaction," and while much of what's in here won't be news to anyone who's listened in on the Dallas City Council's open mic sessions, it's all a little more intense when you read the stories in one place. Or as the report says, "Too often citizen testimonies of health effects or evidence gathered by citizens, as in this report, are dismissed as anecdotal evidence."

And it's not just about the 10-year natural gas boom in the Barnett, either -- there's plenty more new action in other formations around Texas, like the Eagle Ford Shale around San Antonio, the Haynesville Shale reaching from Louisiana into East Texas, and in counties west of Lubbock, where, the report says, "drilling in an as-yet unnamed shale gas formation [is] expected to begin this summer."

At this point, the group says, the shale rush isn't about to end. (Further evidence: Dallas State Rep. Stefani Carter's new bill that'd prevent local government from keeping oil and gas drillers out of their city limits.) "The challenge for Texas is not whether to allow shale gas and oil production, but how to protect the communities whose lives and landscapes are being transformed by the boom."

Air pollution over Fort Worth, water use -- more an one billion gallons of water in 2009 in a four-county area around the Barnett -- and even lower property values in towns like Argyle and Bartonville.

The report recounts the story of Dish, where residents complain about headaches, nosebleeds and asthma, and where the Texas Department of State Health Services tested 28 residents last year, finding 15 volatile organic compounds at higher-than-normal levels.

The report also includes case individual studies from folks you may have read about elsewhere -- Bob and Lisa Parr, and Tim and Christine Ruggiero in Wise County, and Fort Worth goat dairy owner Deborah Rogers. Their stories are each variations on the troubling themes told earlier in the report: new health problems, slipping property values and a trouble holding drillers accountable for spills and other industrial mishaps.

The group also calls out the state's "woefully inadequate" regulatory system, with a staff that hasn't kept pace with the growth in industry, leaving more than half the rigs in the state uninspected over the last five years.

"The Texas Railroad Commission, long the oil and gas industry's lapdog, must become a watchdog," the group says in the report, suggesting the elected Railroad Commissioners be replaced by an elected Oil and Gas Commission -- something the Texas Senate already voted to do, but that faltered in the House just yesterday.

Here's the full report:

FLOWBACK TX-OGAP Health Report
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21 comments
pjc
pjc

Honestly, I'm not paid by the oil and gas industry at all. I read the New Yorker, which has an incredible track record of honesty. I follow the Global Warming Policy Foundation, http://www.thegwpf.org/. And I eat a lot of seafood, while trying to avoid the mercury.

By all means, feel free to treat the the oil and gas industry with some healthy distrust. They have a bias and a profit motive.

But distrusting the New Yorker, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and Nobel Prize winning physisct Freemon Dyson move beyond skepticism into something more like nuttiness.

Thinking that fracing is some new technology that needs study, instead of a 60 year old activity, is just silly. Thinking that the frac-footprint is going to span thousands of feet in diameter instead of tens of feet requires you to reject basic science.

Shale gas drilling is picking up because technology allows them to map the earth more accurately, steer the drill bits more carefully, and frac the pipe with more precision. That's it. Same thing they've been doing for 60 years, just with greater precision because computers are now cheap.

If you want to advocate for more secure well casings, better wastewater treatment, and full disclosure of fracking chemicals, that's great. But it's this "oh my god who knows what will happen when they do this crazy earth fracking!" attitude that bugs me. It's based in ignorance, pure and simple.

JusttheTruth
JusttheTruth

The oil and gas industry constantly lies, deflects and obfuscates when it comes to their activities and how they harm people and the environment. I have attended some of their dog and pony shows wherein they planted stooges in the audience to shout down and contradict those opposed to their destructive ways.

Rangers100, pjc and Nick Grealy appear to be some of those who blindly defend the indefensible. They make blanket statements that are patently false, such as accusing Sharson and others of being in the "business" of fighting environmental battles for their own personal profit when nothing couold possibly be further from the truth. To the contrary, many people fighting to protect human and animal lives, the environment and real estate property values not only do NOT get paid to do so, but spend great amounts of their own time, money and energy exposing the truth and standing up to the stooges who defend harmful practices.

First and foremost, there is absolutely ZERO credibility to claims that natural gas will make us free from "foreign oil", or that it will benefit us economically. The only people it benefits are oil and gas companies that pollute our water, air and soil, kill us and destroy our planet in their greedy quest for obscene wealth under the false flags of 'free enterprise" and "patriotism".

With over 15,000 wells in the Barnett Shale already in operation, and vast numbers more in the Marcellus Shale, Eagleford Shale, Haynesville Shale and other formations we are paying about $4 per gallon for gasoline at a time when there is a glut of gasoline in the marketplace. And, instead of using our produced natural gas to strengthen America, these charlatan drilling companies are selling product to China and other foreign countries that take American jobs, manufacture junk, and then export it here to sell to us at vastly inflated prices.

It is enough to convince me that people like Rangers100, pjc and Nick Grealy are nothing more than stooges of the oil and gas industry who are either too ignorant of the truth and facts to know better, or else just plain ole liars who have no conscience or morals when it comes to slandering others and making false claims in defense of the oil and gas industry.

It has already been pointed out how false many of the statements of the three named above are, so I will not repeat those here, but I will say that anybody who objectively looks into all the claims of those harmed by this most dirty of processes will soon come to the conclusion that shale gas drilling, especially in densely populated urban areas or near water tables, is pure insanity that needs to be stopped immediately.

The mantra of people like Rangers100, pjc and Nick Grealy is "If you can't dazzle them with brillance, then baffle them with bullshit!"

DARRD
DARRD

Do you really want to have this debate?The fines of which you speak amounts to most CEO's walking around money. Chump change. When it comes to expenses, I'll gladly post my Kinkos receipts next to the gas industry television, newspaper, advertising costs. You do watch TV don't you? You know want I mean. So the few glossy items you refer to that come out telling the truth by no means can compare to the industry's whoreish campaign to destroy our planet.

pjc
pjc

This "glossy means serious" report is the typical alarmist fare that is produced by environmental groups. Please, bear in mind the environmental movement is a "business" just as much as Shell or Exxon. The "business" here is scaring people into donating to the group.

The oil and gas industry, on the other hand, faces real liability risk for damaging a well.

To recap - environmentalists, free to fabricate. Oil and gas - help accountable to facts by the courts.

Remind me again why the former is more trustworthy than the latter?

ShaleGasExpert
ShaleGasExpert

Hmm.

A) Energy Security, thousands of jobs, billions of dollars staying in the US and cleaner air or choice B: A Fort Worth goat farmer's allegations.

Who would be acting the goat by doing a cost benefit analysis and choosing B!

Rangers100
Rangers100

I don't work in the energy industry and am open to the possibility that fracking poses environmental threats, but this is the type of report that makes me really skeptical of the anti-fracking claims.

For instance, the report uses the story of the Smith family in Denton that was told in this Denton Record article. The report even includes a scary picture of the muddy water that came from their personal well.

But there are lots of problems with this case. For one thing, 3 different studies produced completely different levels of the various elements for which they measured. One study by an individual expert found lead in the water at 21x the EPA's allowable level. But two other studies - one by the Texas Railroad Commission, the other by another environmental group - found no lead issue at all. The TRC has found no problems with the water, and Devon Energy, who has a huge incentive to make sure its operations aren't poisoning private wells given the gazillion dollar lawsuits that would come with proof of that, also has found nothing to indicate that their operations are what is clouding the water of the Smith's well.

If the case against fracking is so strong, why have a case as weak as this one in your report, much less highlight it with pictures?

claytonauger
claytonauger

Thanks for posting the whole report, and for all the work the DO has done on this issue, which seems to have brought out the best in the region's alternative press.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

what's even more alarming is that currently, North Dallas/State Rep. Stefani Carter(R) has decided to team up with the gas industry and is trying to pass a bill (HB3105) that enables the gas industry to have a type of eminent domain maneuver over all municipalities. If passed in Austin, it won't matter what cities think, if the the gas industry wants to drill in your back yard, they will, any time, any where, non stop.

No one can figure out how she won this election back in the Fall. A total newbie that is being funded by Chief Oil and Gas who want to drill in Dallas. Oh, yeah he district also includes Natinsky, Margolin, Allen, Kadane and Koop. If you want to help 'reeducate her', check outwww.dalladrilling.wordpress.co...

pjc
pjc

Natural gas will displace coal. Coal is the dominant energy source for the grid - as large as all the other sources combined.

It's also the most polluting way to generate power - in many different respects. They rip mountaintops off and let the run off fill the creeks.

Displacing coal will require lots of alternatives, including a large supply of gas.

Sorry, look at the numbers, it's that simple.

matilda of tuscany
matilda of tuscany

pjc is clearly a paid minion of the domestic terrorist organization, the oil and gas industry. Time for all patriotic, flag-waving citizens (99.9% who are unpaid for this cause) to demand some protection for their unalienable right to clean air, sustainable water and shared tax burdens with corporate welfare recipients.

Remember Exxon Valdez, Remember the Gulf, Remember Bhopal! These energy companies can't be trusted to use the "safest" measures, and constantly pit the environment, the health and prosperity of citizens, and their own employees lives against the more satisfying jingle of fat coins. Remember, Dick Cheney had secret meetings to help devise ways to reduce their accountability, our own state reps and senators look for ways to water down the indsutry's accountability every day, and a few of our Dallas City Council members appear to be meeting the devil at the crossroads too. Guess our representative government, at all levels, chooses fat coins over our citizens' health too.OIL AND GAS DO NOT HAVE YOUR BEST INTEREST AT HEART, so don't be fooled by the constant barrage of comforting and vague tv commercials geared to the stupid they keep paying for.

pjc
pjc

Liability does not mean fines. Liability means civil liability, like Erin Brokovich. Coporations take that sort of thing very seriously.

The New Yorker ran a good article recently about fracing. They are a left-leaning magazine, with the most comprehensive fact checking department in the history of publishing. Their conclusion was that horizontal fracking is basically safe, so long as the casings are well secured and the waste water handled with care. Which is pretty similar to what industry experts say, and completely opposite from what "Flowback" says.

pjc
pjc

I know a fair bit amount the natural gas industry because I don't watch so much TV, DARRD.

The comparison between shale gas and coal is no comparison at all, as coal is by far the more dirty fuel. Since coal is the dominant fuel source for the grid, this is the only comparison that needs to be made.

Suzanne
Suzanne

Hey Nick,

That goat farmer is an incredibly well-spoken and smart woman. I have heard her speak and she has more credibility than almost anyone I've ever heard on this subject.

"Flowback" offers us an excellent report on what is happening to our neighbors and in our communities in North Texas. Without either one of the two major D/FW newspapers reporting on any of it very well or with enough detail or very often...well, we're left with a HUGE VOID. Thank God for the Dallas Observer for doing journalism that others won't do.

We would all be really ignorant to do what the Oil and Gas Industry wishes we would do ~ IGNORE the evidence from the Front Lines.

You have stated, that the air will be "cleaner" with shale gas drilling. Oh, my. Maybe your knowledge could use a little tweaking. But not to worry...the O&G Industry has already spent millions of dollars to convince you that everything will be alright. Millions of dollars that they could have paid in taxes...but really, if they have our best interests at heart, why should they pay taxes? I guess that makes them like a non-profit ~ they only want to help us! They would never, ever do us any harm.

Sharson
Sharson

Cleaner air? The claim that natural gas will bring us cleaner air has been proven false. The amount of VOCs in our air from natural gas extraction and production have surpassed the amound of VOCs from all the vehicles in the DFW nonattainment area.

The Fort Worth "goat farmer" has substantial data including numerious test results from private firms and the state. She also has letters from scientists including the head of toxicology at Texas A&M.

We should not be left with only these choices:

A) jobs and moneyorB) health

Ray
Ray

Our air is filthy due to gas production and coal plants. It's getting worse. Gas burns cleaner but it's the production that is unregulated and making things worse. Know anyone with asthma? Ask them.

Sharson
Sharson

The Smith case is a very strong case. The Texas Railroad Commission found toxins in the water at much higher levels than the private testing so your statement that the TRC found no problems is completely and utterly false. However, groundwater is not static so rarely will 2 tests taken at different times produce the same results. In almost every case where water was contaminated during or shortly after hydraulic fracturing, the results of the water testing varies.

I took the picture in the report. The reason the picture looks "scary" as you call it, is because the water is filled with drilling mud. Yes, that is drilling mud, PROVEN with testing. Golly, I wonder how drilling mud got in that family's water. Here is a video that I took of their water http://youtu.be/1KqFsR4HQpk

You place a great deal of weight on your claim that Devon has found nothing wrong with the water and you use the fact that they stand to loose a great deal if it is determined that their operations tainted the water. I think it is a fallacy to use that to prove the our report, which I worked very hard to produce, is worthy of skepticism. Of course Devon has found nothing wrong with the water for the very reasons you gave--they stand to loose a great deal. Devon has also refused to provide a sample of their drilling mud for comparison and the TRC has not forced them to do so.

The picture is real. The case is strong. The family has suffered a great deal like all the families highlighted in the report. Beware Dallas!

Sharon Wilson, organizerEARTHWORKS' Texas Oil and Gas Accountability Project

Ray
Ray

LOL! TRC could not find a problem is a problem. The continued ' no problem here' is exactly why we have some of the worst environmental issues in the country.This report is solid.

pjc
pjc

So Ms. Wilson, are you paid directly by the coal industry to eliminate the competition?

They've been fracking wells for 60+ years. By all means, lets ban this activity, and let the coal industry rip down a few mountaintops instead.

pjc
pjc

They've been fracking wells for over 60 years. They've been sending drill bits hoizontally for over 30 years. The only thing new here is that (a) technology lets them do this more efficiently and (b) they've only recently started to work on "pure shale" plays (i.e. dry rock).

But horizontal drilling and fracking are very old tricks for oil wells, and fairly old for natural gas wells.

The pollution caused by shale gas has nothing to do with fracking. It's the drill casings that sometimes fail, and be better made more secure with a bit more money. But since "Require slightly more expensive casings" doesn't fit on a bumper sticker nearly as well as "Ban Fracking", then you won't see Ms. Wilson advocating it. She gets her paycheck by coming up with catchy slogans and glossy brochures, and is immune to logic.

Painting coal and shale gas with the same "dirty fossil fuel" brush is music to the coal industries ears. The biggest fear for coal miners is that people will switch to some fuel source that is less obnoxious. Shale gas is obviously a big step in the right direction.

The next time I have to explain to my kids why there is so much mercury in the fish, I'll be sure to mention your name, Ms. Wilson.

Sharson
Sharson

@pjc This is not a fight between coal and natural gas--one dirty fossil fuel against another. This is about making industry operate in a responsible manner that is more protective of public health.

Suzanne
Suzanne

Wrong. They've only been doing slick water, horizontal, hydraulic fracturing of shale since 2002 in the Barnett. The fracking in question is in the shale formations and with slick water which includes chemicals. Y'all need to be carefull throwing around your "fracking" facts.

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