There’s a better way to address pollution

By Brandon Evans | Published Wednesday, July 25, 2012

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency isn’t stepping lightly into the Barnett Shale as it declared Wise County be placed in a federal ozone non-attainment zone due to oil and gas industry pollution and automobile traffic.

Despite the amount of pollution produced by oil and gas drilling, it’s hard to imagine that Wise County pollution equals the same seen from auto and industrial pollution in Metroplex counties such as Tarrant, Dallas and Denton that all have 20 times or more the population.

Brandon Evans

Brandon Evans

I guess it’s the EPA’s way to try to better monitor the oil and gas industry, but it’s the wrong way. If you look at cases of people being affected by the gas industry in Wise County, it’s always on a case-by-case basis. I don’t know of any widespread effects, at this point in time, from gas drilling.

There are several disturbing cases in Wise County. There have been instances of ground water contamination. People have suffered rashes, nosebleeds, headaches, memory loss and other ailments from gas site emissions. Overflows at injection sites have befouled landscapes.

But gas drilling and production, if done correctly and properly monitored, is pretty safe compared to most other attempts to pull fossil fuels from the earth. But there are some companies and contractors that will cut corners where they can – not fully aware of the health and safety of those who live in the vicinity.

But the only way to prevent such cases is to have more boots on the ground. The Texas Railroad Commission must hire more inspectors to monitor all levels of drilling and production. The EPA should, too, if they care so much. Or they should help the state hire more inspectors at the local level. That is the only way to ensure the health and safety of people and the environment from drilling activity.

I’ve been covering this issue for years, and I’ve talked to dozens of people on both sides of the issue. They all agree on more inspectors. For instance, long-time water well driller Larry Bisidas has seen several of his wells start to produce murky, salty water after fracking occurred nearby. He said having an inspector on the ground at each fracking site would help ensure groundwater is not affected.

And Ed Ireland, the front man for industry-funded Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, told me the Railroad Commission does not have enough inspectors to properly monitor all production sites.

If you increased the number of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Railroad Commission inspectors to visit possible emission sites, you could stop it before it ever starts.

Everybody agrees that protecting and preserving the water, land and air for future generations is of utmost importance, but somewhere there is a division on just how to do it.

Using a blanket approach like ozone non-attainment on an industry that waxes and wanes and has plenty of companies with a good track record isn’t the answer. Like all things, the devil is in the details, which is where better regulation must start.

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