Some local residents feel the natural gas wells popping up in the area threaten the safety of air and water, but opponents say there has been no contamination and that stopping gas wells could effect the local economy.
About 600 people from the two sides met until late into the evening Thursday night to voice their anger and fear -- or their lack of concerns -- over the issue of hydraulic fracturing. Fracking is a process used in the natural gas drilling, when workers break apart the earth with millions of gallons of a mixture of water, sand, and other chemicals.
The first of four meetings across the country organized by the Environmental Protection Agency was full of cheers and jeers as about 100 people spoke for exactly two minutes each.
The EPA organized the meeting to gain insight from locals about what priorities should be made as it conducts a study of the natural gas drilling specifically the hydraulic fracturing.
Ann Codrington, of the EPA’s groundwater and drinking water divisions, asked speakers to share where they thought the priorities should be, where they felt there were gaps of information, to provide data that should be considered for the study, and suggest locations that could be used as a case study.
But Robert Snoke, of the Rosemont neighborhood association, said the EPA’s efforts are too little, too late.
“The problem here today is the EPA,” he said. “They knew what the problems were before; they knew what the problems were during, and they come into town on their white horse saving us today. Nobody believes you!”
Snoke said that the EPA should have been regulating the natural gas companies for years. In 2005, Congress passed regulation exempting the gas companies from environmental regulation like the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Air Act. Snoke said he shouldn’t have contaminated water in his sink before the EPA regulates gas companies.
But Forth Worth Railroad Commission chair Victor Carrilo said ground water contamination due to fracking was a misconception. The Railroad Commission is the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry.
“Hydraulic fracturing has been used safely for over six decades in tens of thousands of wells across the state,” Carrilo said. “Railroad Commission records do not reflect one single documented surface or ground water contamination case associated with hydraulic fracturing.”
Other speakers representing royalty owners, the oil and gas industry, and state regulators from Texas’s neighboring states later reinforced Carrilo’s comments, pointing out that fracking takes place thousands of feet below water aquifers. However, the sentiments of the room were made clear when Carrilo’s comments were met with applause turned to loud boos.
Some people took the Railroad Commissions records as proof that it wasn’t doing a good enough job. State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) called commissions efforts "inadequate."
Others preempted the claim that no water had been contaminated by bringing bottled water from their homes. Mayor Calvin Tillman of Dish, TX, held up a bottle from his city that had tested positive for arsenic, lead, barium and other chemicals.
But not everyone at the meeting was angry; many attendees calmly made suggestions for the EPA’s study. Some Sierra Club members, including Lone Star executive committee member John Rath, asked for the survey to include exposing the chemicals used by natural gas companies for the fracking process. Rath was also quick to point out that the EPA already has enough information to regulate the gas wells. Flower Mound Mayor Melissa Northen offered the many wells in her city to be considered for a case study.
Kathy Martin, an engineer from Oklahoma with a bachelors in petroleum, suggested that data in the study be divided between horizontal and vertical fractures. Horizontal fractures be divided into single fracture well sights, versus 15 or more fracture well sights, “so that we have an accurate picture of this no proof of pollution.”
She also asked that states claiming to have no pollution provide extensive data to the EPA’s study. Martin also suggested the study be conducted in a way that those wells being tested will not know they are being tested.
David Cozad said in his 24 years engineering experience he learned that corner cutting and rule breaking happen about ten percent of the time. He said the study must be tied to the motivation to break the rules, such as loss of profits, reckless behavior or laziness.
"We do not want mini BP disasters all over the country," Cozad said. "We don't need Joe Barton apologizing to a gas producer for poisoning us."