Transportation Nation

Texas to Investigate Health Risks of Living Near Drilling Site

Monday, August 20, 2012

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user lmahornfan)

The number of oil and gas drilling sites is rapidly growing with the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking. Each new well brings new fears to neighbors who After a rise in breast cancer rates in one area attracted national attention in Texas, the state will now investigate the potential health effects of living near drilling sites.

The investigative reporting unit StateImpact, says previous limited studies have found no health risks in Texas, though studies in Utah and Colorado have pinned ill-health and smog on drilling. Dave Fehling spoke with Texas officials about the potential study.

Read the full story at StateImpact.

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Transportation Nation

Roads Killed: Texas Adds Up Damages from Oil Drilling

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tanker Truck in rural DeWitt county, Texas. (Photo: KUHF)

(Dave Fehling -- Texas, StateImpact/KUHF) Just about everyone I talked to for this story wanted to make one thing very clear: "I want people to understand, we are happy to have the energy industry in Texas," said John Casey of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Why would John Casey think anyone might believe otherwise? Because Casey sees firsthand what the energy industry is doing to his roads. "There'll be a crater in the road, it might be five or ten feet wide and it could be a foot deep, all of sudden just appears."

He's talking about the rapid deterioration of state-maintained roads and highways, even freeways, in the Corpus Christi area. That's where Casey is the district engineer for TxDOT.

"Roads that used to have five vehicles a week now have a hundred trucks rolling on them in a day, or an hour. So it's a pretty significant change," he says.  The trucks DeWitt County, (like the one heard in the audio version of this story rolling down a rutted road) are going to and from drilling rigs. In the past several years, energy companies have been drilling thousands of new oil and gas wells here and elsewhere in Texas. The drilling operations use truckloads of water, sand and chemicals. According to TxDOT, drilling the average well now requires over a thousand truck trips.

In the farm and ranch areas of south Texas, the roads were built for pickups and produce trucks, not tankers. Yet, while the drilling boom here may be ripping up roads, it's also a huge boost to local economies, tripling sales tax revenues in just one year for some local governments. It's happening in other parts of the state as well.

"There are homes that have drilling activities going on within 600 to 1200 feet," says Mayor Robert Cluck of Arlington.

Large hole on FM road in Karnes County

Large hole on FM road in Karnes County (Photo: KUHF)


Mayor Cluck and the city council began to worry. With 340 gas wells now drilled in Arlington and more on the way, what would happen if one of them had a blowout, resulting in an explosion and fire? The city decided to create a special team within its fire department.

"We approved the other night an emergency response center. It would have six new officers specially trained in gas drilling incidents," he said.

To pay for it, council approved a fee: $2,400 dollars per year per well to be paid by energy companies. Fire chief Don Crowson explained, "that's how this fee has materialized. It's kept the responsibility for the safety of these sites on the industry, not necessarily on the taxpayer."

Arlington was in essence copying what already is happening in South Texas: counties there are charging the energy companies thousands of dollars per well to pay for road damage. And now, Texas may be getting in on the act. TxDOT has just formed a task force to meet with energy companies. TxDOT says it has to find a way to fund what could be hundreds of millions of dollars to fix damaged state roads. Mari Ruckel represents the drilling industry.

"The Texas Oil and Gas Association is well aware of the road conditions and concerns that have emerged alongside incredible economic activity and commerce in Texas," he said.

Ruckel says it'll likely be up to the Texas legislature to come up with a way to charge the industry for repairs. The oil and gas industry points out it pays over seven billion dollars a year to Texas and local governments in taxes and royalties. But, the industry has also benefitted from big state tax breaks enacted as the drilling surge began a decade ago. A surge that has brought riches to some communities, but cost them as well.


FURTHER READING: For more on oil drilling's impact on American roads, read this post on Montana's crunch to find more drivers of trucks serving oil companies.

This story was produced by StateImpact a local news reporting project in conjunction with NPR and member stations. 


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