FORT WORTH –More than 437,000 kindergarten through twelfth grade children in Texas attend school within one mile of a fracked oil or gas well, putting them at increased risk of health impacts from dangerous chemicals and air pollution.
The finding comes from a new study by Environment Texas Research & Policy Center that exposes the proximity of fracking near schools, hospitals, day care centers and nursing homes, risking the health of our children and other vulnerable populations.
“Schools and day care centers should be safe places for kids to play and learn,” said Cyrus Rautman, Campaign Organizer at Environment Texas. “Unfortunately our research shows far too many kids may be exposed to dirty air and toxic chemicals from fracking right next door.”
Using data provided by the oil and gas industry and state regulators, Dangerous and Close – Fracking Puts the Nation’s Most Vulnerable People at Risk found that in Texas
- Over 100 nursing homes are located within one mile of a fracked well in Texas.
- More than 1,200 day care facilities, 9% of centers in the state, are located within one mile of a fracked well in Texas.
- 72 hospitals are located within one mile of a fracked well in Texas.
- Texas has the largest number of children attending school close to a well, with 437,000 kindergarten through twelfth grade students attending one of 850 public or private school within one mile of a fracked well.
The report included data from nine states total including Arkansas, California, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia.
Fracking creates a range of threats to our health, including creating toxic air pollution that can reduce lung function even among healthy people, trigger asthma attacks, and has been linked to premature death. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to fracking’s health risks. Children’s immune systems are more susceptible to damage from toxic chemicals while older adults have weaker immune systems and more difficulty breaking down toxics chemicals in the body.
“The effects on our children’s health from exposure to environmental toxins is staggering,” said Ingrid Kelley, a nurse who has paid close attention to fracking operations in Arlington, and who has worked with local environmental groups in the past. “Health is compromised before they become adults decreasing their potential longevity. What will we know about their health in 20 years? Why are we waiting to find out? This is not the future I want for my grandchildren.”
Studies show that the closer you are to fracking, the more susceptible you are to suffering negative health effects. Air quality tests at playgrounds close to fracked wells in north Texas found elevated levels of benzene at all but one location. A series of 2012 measurements by officials of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found VOCs levels so high at one fracking location that the officials themselves were forced to stop taking measurements and leave the site because it was too dangerous for them to remain. Earlier monitoring in Texas detected benzene – a known cancer-causing chemical – at levels that were high enough to cause immediate human health concern at two sites in the Barnett Shale region, and at levels that posed long-term health concern at an additional 19 sites. More than 100 residents were evacuated in Arlington, Texas, in 2015 after crews struggled to plug a gas well that was leaking fracking fluid. Officials feared that natural gas could leak from the well, creating a fire hazard.
Gunnar Schade, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, describes the problem of pollution near drilling wells as inevitable. “Leaks are common, accidents happen. The further away you are, the lower the risk."
Unfortunately, it can be tough for North Texans to get very far from a drilling site.
“This community has 400-plus gas wells in 58 drill sites in its 99 square miles. Wherever our children happen to be in the city – at school, at home, at a park, in daycare – they often find themselves close to multiple wells, drill sites, and compressor stations, with toxic emissions, leaks, and venting,” said Ranjana Bhandari, director of local fracking watch group Liveable Arlington. “We ask the state for more and better monitoring of these dangerous sites, stricter enforcement, and heavier penalties. Our children, and all of Texas' children deserve that much at the very least.”
Each fracked well requires as many as 1,650 truck trips for sand and water delivery, well pad development, well drilling, and extraction. Increased traffic volume leads to more crashes and thus to more injuries and deaths. Around the Eagle Ford Shale play in southern Texas, traffic fatalities increased by 48 percent from 2008 to 2013, compared with a statewide decrease of 3 percent.
To better protect communities already on the frontlines of drilling, stricter regulations should be adopted and federal fracking loopholes should be closed to hold the oil and gas industry to the same standards as other industry. Currently, oil and gas companies are exempt from key provisions in the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
"This report lays out a pretty clear choice for Texas and the Legislature: choose to protect children or the oil and gas industry," said Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter. "The Railroad Commission appears to be compromised by the influence of oil and gas campaign contributions, so it's up to our state leaders whether we get serious about enforcing rules for companies that break the law and jeopardize the health and safety of Texans."
Last session, the Legislature chose to support oil and gas by taking away the right of local communities to add extra protections through HB 40. This session, Environment Texas, Sierra Club, and other environmental organizations will demand they get serious and reform the state's oil and gas regulator through the Sunset process which has found the agency has a history of turning a blind eye to oil and gas violations.
Environment Texas Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.