I have been following the news about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan very closely. As a mother, it is my worst fear that something beyond my control might hurt my child. The fact that the people of Flint are forced to endure this is heartbreaking, and I truly hope that criminal charges will soon be filed against those responsible!
Sadly, the residents of Flint are not the only people in the U.S. who are being poisoned by their trusted government officials. Recently, the WFAA – Dallas, TX, conducted an investigation into possible water contamination due to high-powered hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it’s commonly called, in the Barnett Shale, which is located in the Bend Arch-Fort Worth Basin.
The Barnett Shale, which runs directly under Fort Worth, Texas and 17 of its surrounding counties – about 5,000 square miles – is thought to have the largest on-shore producible natural gas reserves in the United States. Obviously, this makes it very attractive to big oil and gas companies, who began drilling in rural areas of the basin in 1981. Because much of the region consists of urban developments and cities with large suburban communities, these companies have been forced to be creative and recently discovered a way to drill horizontally, directly underneath populated areas. Understandably, citizens in these areas, myself included, are becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of the water coming out of their taps. Based on recent studies, our concerns are definitely warranted.
WFAA, with the assistance of scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington’s environmental laboratory, has investigated private water wells in rural sections of the Barnett Shale, and what they’ve discovered is that these wells are contaminated because drillers, overseen by the Texas Railroad Commission, are not properly sealing natural gas wells with cement, thus allowing oil and gas deposits to escape up their wells and pollute fresh water supplies. Even though strict regulations are in place to ensure that these protective measures are followed, WFAA found that specifically in Palo Pinto and Montague counties, not far from Dallas, these measures were not being enforced.
Unfortunately, water contamination from gas and oil leaks is not the only problem. Houston biochemist, Zac Hildebrand, who has been studying the relationship between contaminated water sources and unconventional drilling in Texas for the past 5 years, and who also partnered with the University of Texas at Arlington, discovered water with high levels of chlorinated solvents, alcohol and compounds that are found in petroleum products — all results that he referred to as “worrisome,” because they can likely be attributed to the fracking liquid used to break through the shale and release the oil and gas. Hildebrand called some of the chemicals he has come across in his studies “exotic,” meaning that he isn’t quite sure what they are. Because of loopholes put in place and protected by the elected officials at the Texas Railroad Commission, he has limited access to the exact formulas of the fracking liquid used by private drillers. As a person who lives in one of the 17 surrounding counties near the Barnett Shale, I find this frightening, because I would like to know exactly what my child is drinking and bathing in! It should not be too much to ask!
While the WFAA investigation focuses mainly on Palo Pinto and Montague Counties, another small town in the Barnett Shale region has been in recent news. Denton, Texas, has been working for years to prohibit fracking within its city limits and away from homes and schools. The city voted an overwhelming “YES” to ban fracking in November of 2014, but in June of 2015, the law was repealed. The city found that it was suddenly “unconstitutional” and couldn’t be enforced, because of a little bill called HB 40 which was signed by Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott roughly 6 months after Denton’s law passed. Basically (or conveniently), HB 40 took the control of oil and gas regulation out of the hands of Denton city officials and put it directly into the hands of the State. In other words, Denton, TX no longer has the right to protect its citizens from being poisoned by big oil and gas companies, and it’s now evident that Governor Abbott has no intention of protecting them either.
This all sounds pretty messed up, doesn’t it? Perhaps you would be less surprised to know that money has influenced this. When WFAA presented its findings to Cyrus Reed of the Lone Star Sierra Club, he said that the three elected Railroad Commissioners get roughly half of their campaign contributions from oil and gas industry insiders. He goes on to say,
I’m accusing them of being influenced by that money, and it clouding their judgment.
This all hits very close to home for me, not only because of what I have shared with you above, but because recently the Bureau of Land Management announced its intent to auction drilling sites in the Hickory Creek section of Lake Lewisville, which has been a beloved campsite for my family for almost 20 years. The Highland Village City Council passed a unanimous resolution to write a letter of protest, but as you learned above, the city has very little control over the fate of the lake (especially that section, owned by the Army Corps of Engineers) when it comes to oil and gas regulation. It is their hope that officials will take their concerns seriously, not only because of the safety of our drinking water, but because of the dams that keep area flooding at bay. With the amount of earthquakes occurring in Texas these days, and the disaster that could occur if the dams fail, I would say that should make the top of the list of priorities that people like Republican Governor Abbott should put in front of his money.
Featured Image Via Facebook Gena Felker Frack Free Denton