Gas Drillers Face Tighter New Monitoring Recommended by Department of Energy

Four years ago, in Texas, our company stopped a city employee, who was with the Fort Worth “environmental department”. We had seen his car driving to new gas well sites near our home at the Boothe Ranch. We asked him what monitoring the city was doing on fumes in the air, or Toluene, Benzene, or other potential pollutants to the water aquifer. Our concern was that there were 5 gas wells within site of our home, which was on a private water well.

Gas WellThe city employee said: “Oh we don’t do that” and drove away. What bothered me most was that he didn't seem to know what I was talking about. My company has for years encouraged greater environmental study, with independent environmental inspectors checking out drilling sites and procedures before, during and after a well is drilled. We learned that even if environmental research was done on new gas wells, it was often done by employees of the gas companies, or by “friends” of the drilling managers, who might not be independent or objective in reporting.

Since we could watch, hear and smell the operations from our back porch, we noted every step of the drilling process. We measured the sound with peaks of 70 to 90 decibels, making sleep almost impossible, and in many cases, we had to leave our home and sleep elsewhere. Big truck traffic blocked the road to our home. Power outages repeatedly interrupted our life, as the rigs inadvertently cut or damaged power lines. Spotlights lit up our environment, and lit up our bedroom at night.

So much light we covered windows with blanketsVarious chemical and odors were bad but the exhaust from huge diesel machines was worse, sometimes leaving a “dusting” of carbon on our property and in our swimming pool. Our well water taste changed, and we began to have diarrhea, so we switched to buying bottled water. The ground actually vibrated below our home and endless low frequency sounds emanated as the drillers worked. Clanging, loudspeakers, shift horns tooting, all of it, essentially ruined the peace and quiet of our home.

Then there were the strangers, who walked and drove across our property, leaving gates open, and often parking in front of our home and walking through our yard. Some said they were there to put out “signal cables”, others said they were there to “monitor” devices that were installed around our property. Many times, we had to ask strange men in hard hats to leave, as they seemed to be a little “too curious” about our tools and possessions. For the first time in 25 years, we had 2 robberies of our home.

After the drilling process, the traffic, trucks, and invasions of privacy still continue, to maintain the well in place. When they “frack” the wells (and they do this on average 14 times) they pump over one million gallons of high pressure water per frack. The water comes from our city reservoirs, and when it comes out of the drill hole, it often has a potpourri of Benzene, Toluene and other “enes” in it, that you wouldn't want your children to drink. They then inject that dirty water back into the earth, and promise that it won’t pollute anything. But, reports from around the nation show that it does pollute and more often than the gas companies care to admit.

Across the nation, as more and more “leak” incidents or consumer complaints have arisen, local cities, and newspapers have been intimidated by the money and lobby power of gas companies, and have been slow to take actions to protect the public. Mayors who have spoken out in favor of stricter monitoring have quickly had their efforts “blunted” by influential oil and gas companies because of the large amount of money these companies spend on political contributions. It now seems that local newspapers have been preempted again by the New York Times.

The Times has shown courage in exposing dangers in natural gas drilling, with in depth articles reporting consumer concerns and incidents. This has led to a recommendation from the Department of Energy, to implement a package of new practices, eliminating some of the more onerous drilling and fracking techniques, as well as requiring more disclosure of chemicals and processes utilized.

For years, as new natural gas, “shale” techniques have developed, a veritable boom in new natural gas production has occurred. In tandem with the increased activity have been more complaints from Texas to Pennsylvania, of water well, aquifer, and property pollution. Oil and gas companies have consistently denied culpability, but continued research and events have caused pressure on drillers to make changes. The industry, naturally has aggressively opposed any disclosure or regulations, but in the face of public concerns, investigations have confirmed practices that are harmful to public health.

John Deutch,( you may remember him as formerly head of the CIA), was the leader of the group which put together the recommendations, which strongly set out more disclosure, elimination of some drilling procedures and an admission that pollution of water aquifers was of great concern.

We believe this is a step in the right direction, but only a step of many that need to happen. Our family has had farm and ranch properties in Texas and New Mexico for over 100 years, and while we appreciate the economic contributions oil and gas have made to our country, we also have first hand experience of seeing the land fouled by irresponsible operators. For years the drillers and operators have almost been “untouchable” by the courts as they have managed to influence passage of laws in their favor. It is time that they be liable for the damage they do. Perhaps this will lead to a cleaner world for our children and grandchildren.