A Neighborly Approach to Cleaning the Air in South Texas

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Is that flare operating efficiently? Is it dangerous to my health? Whom do I ask? Whom do I tell? These are the types of questions an emerging workshop developed by EDF and RGISC aims to answer.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently ranked the Eagle Ford Shale play as the nation’s largest oil field. But with oil wells often comes wasted gas, something Texas knows all too well. A huge portion of the gas pulled from oil wells in the Eagle Ford is burned away— often sending damaging pollutants into our environment.

An investigative report published in the San Antonio Express-News last year found “the rate of Eagle Ford flaring was 10 times higher than the combined rate of the state’s other oil fields.” The same researchers found that from 2009 through the first seven months of 2014 oil and gas operators in the Eagle Ford region wasted about 94 billion cubic feet of natural gas – roughly enough gas to serve the heating and cooking needs of all the homes in San Antonio over four years. Excessive or improper flaring is not only a waste of a valuable resource, but can also have harmful health effects and damage the environment. 

Everyone has the right to clean air, and people living and working near oil and gas fields can play a role in preventing pollution and protecting air quality. For example, when something goes wrong at an oil and gas site, neighbors can report the incident to authorities that are tasked with addressing the problem. However, knowing what to report and which agency to report to can be confusing, especially in Texas where a complex network of state agencies is responsible for managing different environmental impacts of oil and gas development.

Fortunately, there is a new resource for navigating that process and reporting oil and gas pollution. EDF and Rio Grande International Study Center (RGISC) have partnered to host Neighbors of Oil and Gas, a series of bilingual workshops that address common questions about oil and gas pollution and provide resources to help communities identify and report concerning activity. We are beginning the selection process for the 2015 Fall workshops, and people living near oil and gas development in South Texas are invited to nominate their community for a Neighbors of Oil and Gas workshop.

Taking steps to report and help minimize oil and gas air pollution could have a big impact on South Texas communities. The Express-News’ report estimated that “Eagle Ford flares pumped more than 15,000 tons of volatile organic compounds and other contaminants into the air in 2012” – more air pollution than six oil refineries in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Venting, flaring, and other processes related to oil and gas development can emit a variety of air contaminants including deadly hydrogen sulfide, hazardous air pollutants, ozone precursors, greenhouse gases, and other potentially harmful gases that can affect both human health and the environment. Possible health impacts from oil and gas air pollutants range from asthma attacks to cancer or birth defects.

Neighbors of Oil and Gas workshops aim to clarify the reporting process for South Texans living nearby oil and gas development. State agencies conduct thousands of inspections at oil and gas facilities throughout the state every year. But with more than 159,000 active oil and gas wells across Texas, it is impossible for inspectors to monitor every facility at once. Rather than waiting for inspectors to notice problems, people living near oil and gas facilities can report concerns they observe in real time.

If you live in the Eagle Ford Shale region and want to learn more about how to report air pollution from oil and gas development, please visit the Neighbors of Oil and Gas website and consider nominating your community for a workshop by August 1, 2015.

Photo Source: Kens5

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