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The Dark Side of the Boom

(This week, in connection with the launch of our campaign Fracking Gone Wrong: Finding a Better Way, we’ve invited some of the movement’s most prominent advocates to guest blog. Today's guest blogger is Sharon Wilson, aka TXsharon, a blogger and an organizer with Texas Oil and Gas Accountability Project. Earthjustice has worked for years alongside EARTHWORKS OGAP in Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania and other drilling states.)

Howdy, I am Sharon Wilson but most people know me as TXsharon, author of the blog, Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS that focuses on drilling issues locally, statewide, nationally and even globally. My involvement started when I noticed alarming things happening to the countryside near my property in Wise County, Texas—a smelly pit here, a smoking rig there, and leaky pipes and hoses that ended up in flowing creeks. I wrote letters to the paper, talked to neighbors and blogged as a guest until I finally started my own blog.

In 2008, my friend Don Young, founder of Fort Worth Can Do!, and I called EARTHWORKS’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project for help in reining in the out of control and largely unregulated drilling in North Texas. Shortly after an initial tour and meetings with key OGAP staff, we founded Texas Oil and Gas Accountability Project (see industry’s reaction HERE). In January 2010, I became the part-time Texas organizer.

Over the years, I have collected stories and documentation of the havoc that uncontrolled and virtually unregulated drilling and fracking are wreaking on the health and safety of the people of North Texas. I chose four of those stories, developed them into case studies and presented them in October 2010 to the EPA in North Carolina. In December, I traveled a long way from Texas and presented them in Washington, D.C.

Texas has long been the capital of the U.S. oil and gas industry. But the U.S. natural gas boom has brought a new wave of drilling activity to the state, with thousands of drilling rigs and production facilities puncturing the landscape of the region around Forth Worth, known as the Barnett Shale. The new boom and the state’s industry-friendly regulatory system mean that Texas is failing to protect residents from the hazards of gas drilling and production.

That’s what the Texas Oil & Gas Accountability says in a new report, Flowback: How the Texas Natural Gas Boom Affects Health and Safety that was released at the Texas State Capitol in Austin. The report finds that authorities either lack the resources to deal with the air pollution, water contamination and other problems that accompany natural gas production; are limited in their response by inadequate laws and regulations; or continue in the long Texas tradition of favoring the oil and gas industry at the expense of citizens.

Texas is just one of the places across the country where OGAP is working with communities impacted by the nation’s natural gas boom. Our new report gives voice to the families and communities on the front lines of a public health crisis that is spreading from the Barnett Shale to other parts of the state. It pulls together for the first time detailed results of air and water testing as well as health effects data linking residents’ symptoms to toxic chemicals used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

Flowback roundly criticizes the inadequacy of policies and the response of authorities at all levels of government, but reserves its sharpest criticism for the Texas Railroad Commission: long the oil and gas industry’s lapdog, (the commission) must become a watchdog.”

Our report is meant to lift the veil of denial that hangs over the Texas gas patch. The reports of health and safety effects across two dozen counties are real, not coincidences or isolated examples. Current laws make it hard to tie a specific illness to a specific well, but residents of these communities know that where drilling goes, problems follow.

We make some specific recommendations for policy change at the state and federal level, but the most urgent change—in Texas as elsewhere—is in attitude: Regulators and elected officials must protect residents whose health and safety are threatened, rather than industry profits. Too often citizen reports of health effects from drilling are disregarded as merely anecdotes or coincidences. But when so many people, across Texas and across the country, report the same symptoms following the same industrial activities, something is wrong. If we can fix it in Texas, we can fix it anywhere.

Tags:  gas, fracking

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.