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State's water quality at great risk

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The Town of Double Oak is responsible for Texas’ water, both quality and quantity, all the way to Austin and beyond.  Why?  Double Oak rests over the Edwards Trinity Aquifer and the Woodbine Aquifer.  Plus, the Paluxy, Antlers, and Twin Mountains aquifers are nearby.  Like every other community, Double Oak’s environmental deeds matter to Texans.

Officials of this tiny 2.2 square mile town are close to approving 15 gas wells using the hydraulic fracturing process dubbed “fracking.”  Not all residents may be aware of it, but the town council meets on Tuesday, September 7th, to make a final decision on this project.

The problem?  Fracking is being investigated by both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. House of Representatives for water and air contamination. 

The U.S. House of Representatives’ committees are “examining the practice of hydraulic fracturing and its potential impacts on human health and the environment.”  Even the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is currently working on new rules that “will enhance control and regulation in order to minimize emissions and ensure that public health is protected.”  Still, some questionable processes and chemicals will likely be grandfathered and therefore permitted.

Our water is limited!  We still use the same water that the dinosaurs used, with perhaps an extra drop now and then from a stray asteroid.  Fracking uses millions of gallons!  A single well can have multiple horizontal lines extending like spider legs thousands of feet from the vertical origin.  Some exceed ten thousand feet.  They might be fractured 10 to 15 times every few hundred feet, becoming pressurized super soaker hoses.  Afterwards, the water is too toxic to clean and is typically injected into the ground, hypothetically forever removing it from the water cycle.

Jim Leggieri has managed the Bartonville Water Supply Company for 25 years, with 12 years of Denton County service in the Environmental Health Division. He explains, “With millions of gallons of non-potable (tainted) water being pumped into the ground under pressure for this recovery process, the reality that contamination of the fresh (ground) water supply from this process can happen is most likely just around the corner.”

Waste water injection isn’t the only water contamination risk!  The EPA says toxins, such as arsenic, benzene and mercury, and naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM), “are mobilized and brought to the surface during the hydraulic fracturing process.”  Underground toxins can stay put under stable conditions, but fracking isn’t stable, so hazardous stuff can bubble up throughout a well’s lifetime.

And not all toxic water is disposed of!  The EPA states that 20 to 30 percent of hydraulic fracturing fluid flows back to the surface, and “may contain constituents of potential concern.”  Flowback water can be deadly, and wells may produce it for hours or months.  Still, the oil and gas industry is exempt from the Clean Water Act, the Clean Drinking Water Act, the Clear Air Act and any remediation, if they happen to cause an area to be designated as a Super Fund site.  Victor Carrillo, the Texas Railroad Commission Chairman (TRC), once said (in a presentation for the Bureau of Economic Geology) that the Texas Railroad Commission is lobbying against regulations.  It’s up to Texans to protect their own water, because real regulations are merely penciled in, and certain to be challenged by the industry.

Our water moves underground.  Aquifers feed other aquifers, and water even seeps though rock to get where it’s going.  Gravity pulls it downward, but like a river, water also follows the contour of the land.  Our water is all interconnected.  When you wash your hands, it rinses down the drain and out to the water treatment facilities.  Then, it’s discharged into lakes and rivers, and what doesn’t splash, or soak down into our aquifers, flows to the ocean.  Scientists have now found household products in blood samples from wild dolphins in U.S. waters.  What goes around comes around!  Just like America’s water purification plants can’t filter all the chemicals from our drinking water, the ground we walk on can’t filter them either.

Spills happen!  And Double Oak’s pad site has a higher elevation than most of the area.  Williams Gas is drilling in Double Oak and they’ve already spilled in the vicinity at least three times this year.  One was estimated at 190 barrels of toxic flowback water.  They were also recently fined for contaminating a spring in Colorado, a state where they had additionally been sued for failing to remove drilling waste.  And Williams is one of the more conscientious companies!  At a Double Oak zoning meeting, Williams Gas presented a short film on fracking which stated that they use safety measures to prevent “further contamination” of our water, meaning that even Williams acknowledges fracking associated water contamination.  But, they left open the question of how much and what kind.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ study isn’t ready, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality isn’t finished, and the EPA’s scientific safety report won’t be released until March of 2012.  So, Double Oak and other communities in the Barnett Shale are basing their gas industry regulations on technically expired information, with the gas industry helping.

Unfortunately, marketing and lobbyists have always helped Americans make decisions.  For example, “Philip Morris – a cigarette recognized by eminent medical authorities for its advantages to nose and throat.”  Take time to think!  Barnett Shale communities need to wait for the facts.  We need to wait for Texas’ sake!  Once the water’s bad, there’s no going back.

Lisa Trumble
Double Oak, TX

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