Texas rail road commission and environmental agencies give oil and gas companies legal advantages

In Ranger Texas, Jay Marcom's ranch is a good example of how Texas laws and regulations favor oil and gas companies. There, Jay Marcom has documented water so polluted by a leaky natural gas pipeline, that the water is flamable. Marcom showed test results indicating the water has benzene, xylene, and toluene, all linked to cancer in humans.

But his attempts to get Texas regulatory agencies to fix the problem, has been a multi-year effort in frustration. The regulators talk, and give rhetroric, but after years of effort, the problem still exists.

As any oil man will tell you. Texas law favors oil and gas companies, over consumers. Big money rules Texas regulatory agencies, and rarely does a regulator come forward and really risk his career to try to enforce NEPA or national environmental guidelines.

Recently, with witnesses and cameras rolling, Marcom demonstrated how flamable his "water" is.

"I just want it clean," he said.

While the law is on the side of drillers, we have long said that civil legal suits are the best tool that injured parties have. We have also recommended repeatedly that each drilling site should have an independent, outside environmental company do an audit and review of the site, the pipelines and the operation to assure safe environmental compliance. In this way, the public is protected, and the oil and gas industry lowers legal liability.

In the Metroplex, the Barnett Shale natural gas play, has repeatedly brought up the subject of risk of pollution. The natural gas companies, and even the Mayor of Ft. Worth, have indicated that safeguards are in place to protect Ft.Worth water supplies, and that leaks and pollution, due to Barnett Shale drilling and operations, will not hurt the environment. Marcom makes the point that leaks and pollution can occur, and when they do, city, state and federal agencies are slow to act, and slower to really solve problems. By that time, it is too late.

"There are oil tanks in Dallas-Fort Worth area that have already run over, they’ve already stained the ground," Marcom said.

As an example of rhetoric, that tends to protect the gas industry, Tom Edwards, Fort Worth’s gas inspector has indicated that the state requires better construction and more inspections in urban areas than in rural areas. The U.S. Transportation Department says oil pipelines only leak one gallon for every million barrel-miles. At least one federal official recently said that pipeline companies are taking more care to guard against leaks.

"The companies appear to be designing them even more conservatively than the regulations require," said an expert on pipelines with the Transportation Department who refused to be identified.

While some say that the federal government has tightened it's regulations, there is little evidence of enforcement or remediation for people like Marcom who find their property polluted.

Rules that requre pipeline compressor stations, to have a layer of plastic sheeting, seem to make sense, but plastic is easily penetrated, and rocks, sticks, even animals can tear it.

Ramona Nye with the Texas Railroad Commission said that spills on rural, farm and ranch land is not even inspected by the Texas Railroad Commission. When properties in city areas are inspected it is rare to see any immediate action on the part of regulators to remediate.

Marcom says that the oil and gas industry control the commission though big money campaign contributions. Many environmental consulting companies in Texas have come to the same conclusion. The three elected commissioners, all Republicans, received between one-fourth and one-half of their campaign money from the oil and gas industry, according to followthemoney.org.

Marcom has documented that water on his ranch is so polluted, that it burns, and has 220 times the legal, safe level of benzene. The company that caused the problem is not even going to have to pay a fine.

It is estimated that there will be some 2000 wells in the Tarrant County area, relating to the Barnett Shale drilling boom.