Fracking: What We Don't Know Could Kill a Goat. Or Give 'Em One Hell of a Nosebleed.
Maybe the biggest problem with the fracking issue is that it involves the deadly, mind-numbing and sleep-inducing phrase "parts per billion." Otherwise I might have cracked the case long ago.
Fracking is deep-well drilling for natural gas in which drillers inject water and chemicals into a layer of underground shale to fracture the rock and release trapped natural gas. Our Patrick Michels got me past the worst of my parts-per-billion-phobia in his very readable and informative March 10 cover-story "Toxic Avenger," a portrait of Al Armendariz, regional chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
For another really solid exploration of this issue, with lots of good reporting that gets right around the parts-per-billion barrier, see the series running in the Denton Record-Chronicle called "Citizens of the Shale." (Which, strangely, never appeared in that other local A.H. Belo paper.) These stories, along with Michels's piece, will convince you that fracking is a headache and nosebleed-inducing kill-your-damn-goats matter of urgent concern.
I have written a couple times about fracking, both here and in the paper version of Unfair Park. The industry says it's clean and good for us. Detractors say it's a terrible air polluter, poisons people and causes water taps to catch fire. In this case the truth probably does not lie between the two extremes. It's not like it's a question of one part per billion versus two parts. It's more like your damn goat dies or it doesn't.
In two weeks the Dallas City Council will take up the question. Council member Angela Hunt wants the council the form a commission to see if maybe the city needs to know more about fracking before allowing it inside the city limits and near neighborhoods. Some council members are opposed to the idea, on the principle (and common philosophy at Dallas City Hall) of, "Gee, why know more?"
For that answer, be sure to look at the story, "Hard Work Ahead," by Sarah Perry, in the Record-Chronicle series.
It's a thorough and balanced piece, but, man ... this story also includes some knockout interviews with people who live near fracking operations, like Deborah Rogers in Westworth Village, five miles west of Fort Worth.
Rogers runs an organic farm and raises goats and chickens on 45 acres she inherited from her grandfather. A fracking operation took place on land nearby.
On the fifth day of that operation the drilling company "flared" the well -- burned off extra gas and chemicals. That day a baby chick on Rogers's farm dropped dead in front of her. Then that same day six more chicks died. Then two baby goats died. Then she developed a killer headache and a nosebleed.
State officials told her everything was fine. Not to worry. Sounds great.
After testing her air, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told Rogers in a letter, "Although two of the reported concentrations and all three of the potential maximum concentrations exceed the TCEQ short-term ESL [effects screening level], we would not expect adverse health effects to result from exposure to these concentrations."
Translation: OK, so you've got some poison floating around in the air and stuff. It's probably not going to kill you.
Her story, by the way, is also treated at some length in Michels' piece, to at least equally devastating effect.
In case after case cited in the Record-Chronicle stories, the TCEQ and the Texas Railroad Commission -- the weird agency supposedly regulating gas drilling in our state and offering two of its commissioners as Kay Bailey's would-be replacements -- come across as a totally whored-out, worthless, collaborationist pieces of crap, which, by the way, is a deliberate understatement on my part, because I'm trying to be polite.
In some of the boondocks areas where fracking is underway, air pollution is far worse than it is in downtown Dallas, which means that, if we get the same levels, all of that new pollution will be on top of what we already have.
I'm just saying. Don't tell me we don't need to know more. Read this series. Read Michels' piece. If we don't find out everything there is to know before this stuff gets going inside the city limits, we can all can bend over, hold on to our parts per billion and prepare to be fracked.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.