Effects On Health From Oil And Gas Emissions In Texas

The oil and gas (O&G) boom brought prosperity to Texas towns and pumped billions into the state economy. Nevertheless, residents worry that the benefits from the fracking activity come at a high cost. People complain of difficulty breathing, migraines and other health-related issues that started or became worse once drilling began in their community.

Debate is brewing between residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth region, home of the rich Eagle Ford shale formation and the San Antonio metropolitan area, where fracking occurs in the Eagle Ford Shale and the oil and gas industry. Study results from environmental group and the O&G industry are conflicting and inconsistent.

Gasping for Breath

Environmental groups Clean Air Task Force and Earthworks released a study, titled Gasping for Breath, which states that Texas will lead the nation in illnesses caused by airborne pollutants from the O&G industry in 2025. Additionally, the study asserts that ozone-producing methane from O&G activity will result in additional asthma attacks and costly emergency room visits.

Industry Response

Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association issued a response to the Gasping for Breath study, "Groups funded to oppose fracking are threatening our health, not protecting it." He maintains that the air is actually cleaner with increased O&G production because natural gas is a cleaner fuel that more power plants are embracing.

Fossil Fumes

A 2016 study from the Clean Air Task Force mentions toxic air pollutants emitted from O&G production, procession, storage and transmission:

  • Formaldehyde - linked to cancers and respiratory problems
  • Benzene - linked to birth defects, anemia, cancer and brain damage
  • Ethylbenzene - linked to neurological and blood disorders and eye irritation
Living in close proximity to small compressor stations and well sites exposes Texans to these chemicals. Wells and small compressor stations dispersed throughout rural, suburban and urban communities. Fracking occurs within 200 feet of schools, homes and businesses. Families residing in areas where natural-gas production is the most active breathe toxic pollutants 24 hours a day.

TCEQ

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has air quality monitoring stations in the Barnett Shale region and they say there is no cause for alarm; however, they only have 26 stations taking air samples in a 5,000 square mile region.

Water Contamination

Water contamination results from poor wastewater management, which does not remove harmful chemicals and metals from the water. Each well produces approximately 5,000,000 liters of wastewater, which is stored in wells throughout Texas. Residents living near wastewater wells fear that the wastewater will contaminate the groundwater and their wells. Cancer, reproductive problems and nervous system damage are linked to the chemicals in fracking wastewater.

People who feel that emissions from fracking activity affected their health cannot definitively prove that the chemicals used in fracking are to blame. Nevertheless, young, previously healthy residents that live in the center of fracking activity have reported bewildering health problems, including rare cancers, unexplained rashes, sinus infections that do not respond to antibiotics and autoimmune diseases.