Environmental Chemist Wilma Subra on the Barnett Shale Bonanza and Its Costs

Categories: The Environment

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Dublinsky Photography
By 2008, the high price of natural gas, coupled with the novel combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, touched off a modern-day gold rush in the Barnett Shale. Regulators were caught on their heels.

"They moved forward very rapidly, and state regulatory programs had a difficult time catching up," says Wilma Subra, a chemist and MacArthur Genius Grant fellow who was featured in the documentary Gasland. "They pulled field staff in to write permits."

The communities at the shale boom's epicenter have only just begun to understand how unconventional gas production affects their bodies. But that's exactly what Subra does. She's spent her life empirically gauging the effects of heavy industry and oil and gas exploration, drilling and production on those who live in its midst. She started out at the Gulf South Research Institute, a bio-tech thinktank contracted by the EPA to conduct environmental impact studies. She started her own consulting firm in New Iberia, Louisiana, in 1981, specifically to assist communities grappling with environmental issues.

More recently, she testified before a congressional committee about the health effects clean-up workers face following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She's conducted sampling in North Texas communities like Argyle, Dish and Flower Mound, and in other major shale plays across the country, where natural gas extraction moved out of the pastures and into populated areas. Regulatory oversight has been ineffectual to nonexistent, she says. As a result, people became living laboratories in an unprecedented mineral play.

"We're seeing surface water contamination from leaks and spills of produced water. We're seeing deeper groundwater contamination from the failure of cement and casing. We're seeing air emissions from produced fluids, compressor stations, and along pipelines," Subra says.

Exposure begins, she says, with respiratory problems, skin rashes, neurological impairments and finally cardiovascular issues.

"We find [volatile organic compounds] in the air. A lot of methane and ethane in the air. In the water, we find materials used in drilling and fracks: the volatiles, the [semi-volatile organic compounds] and heavy metals," she says.

Subra recommends that homeowners test their water before drilling operations begin, so that they can establish background levels for certain contaminants associated with fracking before it's too late. "I've compiled a list of what chemicals you should be testing for in water: volatiles, semi-volatiles, heavy metals and radioactivity. There's lots of naturally occurring radium that comes from the formation that contaminates fracking fluid before it comes back up."

Subra says she recently met with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the EPA regarding sickness in several North Texas towns. Regulators, she says, are evaluating whether to shut down nuisance operators.


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15 comments
kimfeil
kimfeil

No price tag is worth the health of citizens being made to reside near these mini gas factories. Anybody buying CHK stock deserves all the WWJD money changing table damnation infinity will bring….wishing you and yours ill peace in your heart for your remainder days here on this devasted by drilling earth. Yes my husband has cancer and yes my teen may have a brain tumor and yes we live within 1/2 mile from urban drilling.

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pak152
pak152

always glad to see the anti-fracking shills come out in force

Kim Triolo Feil
Kim Triolo Feil

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... Denton is working on their Gas Drilling Ordinance, Wilma Subra, an environmental scientist from Iberia Louisiana, came to speak last Friday night on what criteria should be looked at. She speaks on the chemicals used in gas extraction and other effluents and breaks down the acute and chronic health effects for those downwind of drilling sites and compressor stations.She comments that  doctors may treat the symptoms and how most physicians are unprepared to treat toxic exposures.Anyone running for office, or in an elected position, or has a business stake in a drilling town should see her 40 minute presentation and pass this video on. When the audience of mostly college aged students asks questions, turn up the audio and hear the concerns and comments.At  55 or 56 minutes into the video, note how two elementary school aged girls are active in this discussion.At the end of the video, note a seasoned, Republican? lady's  comment on the economic impact and our options.This link   http://laurensjournalonfrackin...    has a lot of photos of the shale drilling in the northeast and shows how much of a hold Cabot has on the town and those residents (that still have drinkable water) which reminds me of Arlington and our relationship with Chesapeake.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

And Joan Walne, President of the Dallas Park Board sat on the Dallas Task Force and voted to drill in floodplains and parklands. She didn't see why we shouldn't do that since they just sit there and don't do anything.LOL! What an idiotic way to think. She should resign with that type of thinking. Her vote helped seal the deal to possibly contaminate us all. Keep in mind, she was put on the Task Force 'cause that guy named Dave Neumann insisted that the "Park Board President' be on the panel.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

Mayor Mike said....."I will never put any neighborhood at risk because of money." If he votes to allow drilling in the City of Dallas, he lied in front of 250 people with council members in the audience.

TXsharon
TXsharon

I told the Dallas Drilling Task Force that Argyle high school students suffered impacts when the facility was 1/2 mile away and 65 drilling chemicals were measured on the lot where the high school band practices!

Now the 1/2 range has been confirmed with a study. http://www.texassharon.com/201...

Dallas Residents At Risk
Dallas Residents At Risk

The City of Dallas needs to work in tandem with the Dallas County Health Department about the vulnerability of children to environmental exposures because:

Their bodily systems are still developingThey eat more, drink more, and breathe more air in proportion to their body size  then adults.Their bodies are less able to breakdown pollutants and excrete those pollutants.Their behavior can expose them more to chemicals and organisms.

TXsharon
TXsharon

Some people will watch another touch a hot stove and learn. Others only learn when they touch the stove themselves and become scarred.

Just fyi, a bit of health information I could dig up in a few minutes:

Heart attacks and emissions from shale oil and gas http://www.texassharon.com/201...

Comments from American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, Amercan Thoracic Society, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and Trust for America’s Health to the EPA. 

The Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units recently distributed fact sheets for people who live in areas of natural gas development.

Here is a fact sheet for health care professionals on the dangers of exposing children to hydraulic fracturing and natural gas activity.Here is a fact sheet for parents.New Study to be published in Science of the Total Environment: Human Health Risk Assessment of Air Emissions from Development of Unconventional Natural Gas Resources (press release).

GASSED: Citizen Investigation of Toxic Air Pollution from Natural Gas Development

Health Impact Assessment for Battlement Mesa, Garfield County Colorado

Jim Schermbeck
Jim Schermbeck

And this is important because the City of Dallas is in the middle of writing a new gas drilling ordinance which would allow well sites and compressors within 500 feet of homes, schools, hospitals and other "protected uses," as well as green-lighting drilling in parks and the floodplains. The Dallas Residents at Risk alliance (Mtn Creek Neighborhood Alliance, Downwinders at Risk, Sierra Club, Texas Campaign for the Environment and Dallas Area  Residents for Responsible Drilling) is sponsoring a citywide organizing meeting on Gas Drilling in Dallas, Tuesday, March 27th, from 7 to 8:30 pm at the Center for Community Cooperation, 2900 Live Oak. Even if there's no drilling near you, your yard could be fodder for a gas pipeline thanks to imminent domain, and your lungs the final resting place of air pollution generated by the industry. Here's our post with a flier on the 27th:

http://downwindersatrisk.org/_...

Mavdog
Mavdog

wow, who could argue with a post such as yours that is filed with facts, intellect and insight....

gladnotsad
gladnotsad

Radium is a decay product of Uranium  (discovered by Marie Curie) and is NOT indigenous to drilling processes. Does she mean "Radon"?  This seems to be a fundamental scientific error, which casts doubt on the underlying scientific integrity of this article.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

 yeah, for someone who doesn't even live in the area, he's got a lot to say about what goes on here.

DoubleOJoe
DoubleOJoe

 Radium and radon are both uranium daughter products.  In any case, the quote is:

"There's lots of naturally occurring radium that comes from the formation that contaminates fracking fluid before it comes back up"

That says nothing about those elements being used in drilling and fracking; it says that the natural isotopes are released by the process and contaminate the fluid.  There's no fundamental error there, merely a statement that needs to be backed up by data. 

gladnotsad
gladnotsad

Radium, atomic no.88, is an alkaline earth metal which reacts violently with water and oil to form radium hydroxide and is not--chemically speaking-- water soluable.  It is a product only of uranium ore.  The nearest uranium ore deposits, I know of, are in Grants, New Mexico.  Radon,, atomic number 86, is a noble gas and can be found in shale, limestone deposits etc,but  is only sparingly soluble in water.  So, I am very skeptical about  the scientific basis of Ms. Subra's statement .What was the nature of her work in New Iberia La?

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