Enviros to Texas Lawmakers: What About the Fracking Kids?

A fracking operation in the Eagle Ford Shale region.
A fracking operation in the Eagle Ford Shale region.

A new report detailing the proximity of schools and daycare centers to fracking wells in Texas should serve as a wakeup call to state lawmakers, environmental groups say.

Unveiled at a news conference in Austin on Thursday, the report found that nearly 437,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade attend one of 850 Texas schools that are within one mile of a fracking site. In addition, 1,240 daycare centers — or 9 percent of the total number — are within one mile of a fracking well.

Health hazards associated with fracking include air pollution, groundwater contamination, truck traffic and explosions or other accidents, according to the report. Children are more susceptible to harm because their immune, respiratory and nervous systems are still developing.

“This report lays out a pretty clear choice for Texas and the Legislature,” said Cyrus Reed, conservation director for the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter. “Choose to protect children or the oil and gas industry.”

Last year, the Legislature passed House Bill 40, which bans cities from banning fracking. Though the measure is unlikely to be repealed anytime soon, Reed said,lawmakers could strengthen state oversight of the oil and gas industry during a sunset review of the Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas, in 2017.

He noted that the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission recently concluded that monitoring and enforcement related to the the oil and gas industry should be improved “to effectively ensure public safety and environmental protection.”

“The Railroad Commission appears to be compromised by the influence of oil and gas campaign contributions, so it’s up to our state leaders whether we get serious about enforcing rules for companies that break the law and jeopardize the health and safety of Texans,” Reed said.

Hospitals, nursing homes and schools in Texas in close proximity to fracking operations put children at particular risk, say environmental groups.
Environment Texas
Hospitals, nursing homes and schools in Texas in close proximity to fracking operations put children at particular risk, say environmental groups.

The 47-page report, titled “Dangerous and Close,” was compiled by Environment Texas, the Frontier Group and the FracTracker Alliance. It examined the locations of 160,000 fracking wells drilled since 2005 in nine states, based on data provided by regulatory agencies and the oil and gas industry.

The other states included in the report were Arkansas, California, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Texas led the way in all four categories of vulnerable populations — schools, daycare centers, nursing homes and hospitals — within one mile of a fracking well. Most of the state’s fracking wells are concentrated in the Barnett Shale of North Texas and the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas.

The report calls for state and federal officials to shut down existing fracking wells, especially those near vulnerable populations, and remove loopholes in federal environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act that exempt the industry.

“The only solution to this toxic threat is to move toward 100 percent renewable energy,” said Lena Wright, campaign organizer at Environment Texas. “But in the meantime … the Legislature should make sure that regulators are properly inspecting oil and gas companies, take tough enforcement actions when those oil and gas companies violate the law, and stop permitting wells right next to schools and day cares.”

The report cites studies showing that air pollution from fracking wells, including elevated levels of benzene and other volatile organic compounds, can reduce lung function in healthy people, trigger asthma attacks and even cause premature death. Other health hazards associated with fracking include heavy metals, hydrocarbons and radioactive material in contaminated drinking water.

Dr. Katharina Hathaway, president of Texas Physicians For Social Responsibility, said the report is especially alarming given that the negative effects of close exposure to fracking operations aren’t fully known.

“There’s not always a straight line drawn from an exposure to a toxic substance and its health consequences,” Hathaway said.

Read the full report here.

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Published at 11:31 am CST