Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Investigation Highlights Toxic Air Emissions In Fracking Fields

Flaring at a well in Brazos County, Texas.

Flaring at a well in Brazos County, Texas.

The fracking boom that has brought jobs and money to rural parts of South Texas has also brought potentially life-threatening air pollution. That’s according to a joint investigation out today from the Center for Public Integrity, the Weather Channel and Inside Climate News.

The report found that toxic chemicals like benzene and hydrogen sulfide are being emitted in increasing amounts in the Eagle Ford Shale area of South Texas.

“It’s as if you’d took a big oil refinery that you’d find in Houston and plopped it down in the middle of rural Karnes County, Texas,” Jim Morris, a reporter for the non-profit Center for Public Integrity, tells StateImpact Texas. The findings came from a review of state air pollution permits.

The investigation comes on the heels of an analysis, published recently in Science Magazine, that found that natural gas “production and processing” is emitting more methane than estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency. That has implications for global climate change, though the report found that methane leaks could potentially be fixed.

Rather than focus on greenhouse gasses, the investigation released today looks at toxic chemicals.

“There’s just no question that the chemicals are being released. The real uncertainty is, how bad is it?How bad is it going to be for people five or ten or twenty yeas down the road?” Morris asks.

But determining the exact nature of pollution in the region is difficult. That’s in part because the state regulator, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), hasn’t installed enough equipment.

“Even though the Eagle Ford Shale covers about 20,000 square miles, which is about twice the size of the state of Massachusetts — if you can picture that — there are only five permanent air monitors,” says Morris.


  • Kyle Pape

    so how exactly does fracking (downhole), effect the air emissions put out by flaring? or do you just like using scary words like “fracking”?

  • VAppalachia1

    If you weren’t fracking, you wouldn’t be flaring. People who pay attention to this industry use “fracking” to identify the cradle-to-grave process of shale gas development from clearing the land to the end user burning it and everything in between.

    That includes flaring. Would there be so much flaring if the industry wasn’t in a constant rush to drill and secure its leaseholds? You tell me the point of drilling dozens of wells before a plan is in place to connect them to transmission. But this is permitted because there’s no one regulating it. And if the TCEQ is barely monitoring the emissions, how would they enforce violations?

    More and more people understand what’s at the other end of the pretty blue flame.

    • Daniel

      In other words, people who pay attention to the industry lie. Hydraulic fracturing is downhole, plain and simple.

      • VAppalachia1

        Fracking boosters seem ready to argue with a lamppost, and to call people liars to boot—simply for expressing an opposing view. I am a US citizen simply exercising my First Amendment freedoms here, just like you.

        If there were no unconventional deep shale wells being hydraulically-fractured (down hole), there would be no need to flare gas at these unconventional wells and release toxic compounds into the air.

        Or to state the converse, there would be little to flare if unconventional deep shale wells were not drilled and hydraulically fractured (down hole). (i.e. would there be large amounts of gas to extract with a conventional well at the same site? If you want to credit fracking in one breath for being a game-changing advance in technology, you can’t have it both ways: give it the credit or give it the blame, when it is due.)

        This really does make a person wonder why proponents of industrial shale gas development (the term I use to describe the blanket of activities often lumped under “fracking”) are so very defensive about what’s going on down hole. Why so defensive?

  • VAppalachia1

    I’ll call it whatever you like. I prefer Industrial Shale Gas Development because it covers the life cycle impacts of a practice that has many negative consequences.

    I’ll answer your questions (again) if you answer mine.

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