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State Agency Responds to Report Criticizing Eagle Ford Shale Fracking Regulation

Photo: MICHAEL BARAJAS, License: N/A

MICHAEL BARAJAS

Mike Cerny at home in Karnes County


A “toxic mix of irresponsible industry operators and negligent regulators,” as well as suffering families, marks hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in the Eagle Ford Shale, according to a newly released critical report by national environmental non-profit group, Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

The study, titled “Reckless Endangerment While Fracking the Eagle Ford,” slams state agencies like the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for failing to provide oversight and take action to both reduce pollution, notify residents and penalize facilities. Researchers undertook their own air pollution testing to conclude fracking the shale threatens the health and safety of residents in the area.

The report examined the case of one family pitted in the center of the South Texas shale boom. Also the focus of a March Current cover story by Michael Barajas, the Cernys, who reside in Karnes County, are surrounded by 55 oil wells within two miles of their home. After a litany of health problems from headaches, nosebleeds and rashes to asthma (which they say is caused by pungent odors and fumes from the shale industry), and unresponsive requests from state regulators, the family contacted Earthworks. The Current’s investigation captured the Cernys’ health struggles, TCEQ site visits to Marathon Oil facilities and ShaleTest activists’ work in assessing pollutants.

Now, Earthworks has completed its own investigation, taking air quality samples from Eagle Ford Shale facilities close to the Cerny home and reporting back that inspectors actively avoided evidence of harm to residents, a growing pattern among fracking development nationwide.

The Cernys and other Karnes County residents filed more than 30 air complaints with TCEQ and the Railroad Commission but the facilities in question never received any penalties as a result, the report notes. Inspections that did arise ended with TCEQ regulators either evacuating the premises due to high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on-site or simply not testing due to high VOC levels. For example, a TCEQ inspection note for the Sugarhorn Central Facility operated by Marathon Oil, located 1.3 miles from the Cernys’ house, reads, “… Canister samples were not taken as the VOC measurement was too high to safely obtain the samples,” as per an open records requests. Earthworks wryly noted, “[p]ollution too dangerous to measure, not dangerous enough to penalize.”

According to the EPA, health effects of VOCs—emitted gasses comprised of a variety of chemicals, such as benzene—vary, ranging from throat irritation and nausea to liver, kidney and central nervous system damage. Exposure to some organics is “suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.”

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