Con: Shale gas drilling harms the environment and poses health risks


April 11, 2010 at 7 p.m.
Updated April 11, 2010 at 11:12 p.m.

Sharon Wilson believes asthma rates among children in the Dallas-Fort Worth area reached staggering heights because of shale gas drilling.

"Is it coincidence that the counties with the highest numbers of childhood asthma coincide with the core and most heavily drilled areas of the Barnett Shale?" she wrote in her blog in January.

Wilson, who owns land and mineral rights above the Barnett Shale, began working to help people negatively affected by oil and gas development in January.

Her independent blogging and part-time work with the Texas Oil and Gas Accountability Project grew out of the concern she had for her community, where drilling is pervasive and harming the environment, she said.

"Here they have drilling rigs sitting in school yards, and there are just some places where they ought not to drill," Wilson said.

"The problem is natural gas is everywhere," she continued. "They're drilling practically in people's backyards. If you look at the map, it's just everywhere."

The activity leads to a number of environmental and health risks, said Wilma Subra, a scientist and environmental advocate.

Spillage and leakage during drilling may contaminate the soil, groundwater and surface water bodies, she said.

Natural gas may contain benzene, a known carcinogen, which may be found in water and in air emissions.

It can be particularly harmful for the people who live near drilling wells, Subra said.

"You don't want to have it to where you're exposed to it all day everyday in your home," she said.

For landowners collecting royalty checks from the gas companies, it isn't always a picnic.

"If you don't own the mineral rights but own the surface rights, just one day and the equipment starts rolling in, and then you have all these impacts," Subra said.

Wilson, who said she is very concerned for the people in South Texas, urged people living on top of the Eagle Ford to ensure that their governments enforce the best drilling practices. They can do that by printing out "Drill-Right Texas," a document written by the organization EarthWorks that details best practices for operator-landowner negotiations, water and soil protection, human safety and wildlife protection, she said.



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