If you live around here and you haven't heard about the Eagle Ford Shale oil and natural gas play in the past few years, you just haven't been paying attention. The shale play that stretches from South Texas into Mexico is one of the key developments that has revitalized the U.S. energy sector after years of decline. The oil and gas from this play, like the Barnett Shale in North Texas and the Bakken in North Dakota, was unlocked from the shale by using a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to shatter the brittle shale and get the hydrocarbons flowing.
This has been been an economic boom for a bunch of small towns in South Texas, right at the heart of Eagle Ford, but with all the drilling comes a price. While we haven't seen contaminated water that studies and activists have reported from the Barnett, a study has found that all the oil and money has come with a cost, a decline in air quality.
In a story jointly reported by the Center for Public Integrity, the Weather Channel and InsideClimate News, it was found that more than 7,000 oil and gas wells have been sunk in the Eagle Ford since 2008. This means money, but it also translates to people's homes being surrounded by wells with state permission to release tons of volatile organic compounds, a class of toxic chemicals that includes benzene and formaldehyde, into the air each year.
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The story dug into what Texas has been doing to protect people living on top of the Eagle Ford -- which is more than 400 miles long and 50 miles wide -- from oil industry-produced pollutants. As anyone familiar with the Texas approach to regulation in general and environmental regulation in particular will be unsurprised to learn, it turns out Texas doesn't do much at all.
The air monitoring system sucks so the state has no idea (if we had to bet, they probably don't want to know) what kind of pollution is being produced along with all that Texas Tea from the Eagle Ford. Thousands of oil and natural gas facilities are allowed to self-report emissions, which is the same as having no reporting at all.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state regulatory agency charged with overseeing all things environment in Texas, has had its budget slashed so there's even less oversight from state regulators these days. Even if a company is fined for pollution, the fines are comparatively tiny.
The story goes on to detail the many problems on the rise with the Eagle Ford. Since the boom started a few years ago, the Eagle Ford hasn't gained the notoriety that came with the air and water problems from the Barnett or the flammable water and contaminated wells from the Marcellus. But it seems the honeymoon is over, and the days of the Eagle Ford being viewed as pure gain are most likely about to end.