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Dallas town hall meeting focused on Railroad Commission

Citizens and environmental groups concerned about possible air and water pollution from the Barnett Shale spoke out last night in Arlington.  Nearly 140 people gathered to express concerns about the Texas Commission on Environment Quality (TCEQ) and the Railroad Commission (RRC).

Rita Beving, with Public citizen, says both face the Sunset Advisory Commission next month to see if they should change, or even continue to exist.  She went on to say “Our state has failed in many ways to respond to the public. That’s why the EPA has stepped in to pull authority away from the TCEQ.  Some of the people we’ve talked to have had horrible experiences including having their tap water catch fire.”

A panel consisting of former TCEQ Commissioner Larry Soward, Rep Lon Burnam (D-90) and Senator John Carona (R-16) answered questions and listened to concerned citizens talk about their dealings with both agencies, most of it negative.

While attendees spoke out about both the TCEQ and the Railroad Commission, the focus of the hearing was on the Railroad Commission and the issue of the Barnett Shale natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. 

From compressor stations emitting known carcinogens such as benzene, to the poor lining of wells after drilling that has led some water taps to literally spout flames, the full set of activities needed to produce natural gas gives rise to a plethora of potential problems that residents of the DFW metroplex have been grappling with during the past year.

In August of this year, one local community had a set of seven samples collected throughout the town which, when analyzed for a variety of air pollutants, found that benzene was present at levels as much as 55 times higher than allowed by the TCEQ.  Similarly, xylene and carbon disulfide (neurotoxics), along with naphthalene (a blood poison) and pyridines (potential carcinogens) all exceeded legal limits, as much as 384 times levels deemed safe.

Through a fluke in Texas’ agency development, the Railroad Commission is responsible for permitting and enforcement of oil and gas drilling and pipelines in the state, making them the focus of the town hall’s wrath, however, TCEQ did not escape unscathed, with citizen’s bringing up issues around  failure of notice, landfills and waste stations.

The staff reports for both these agencies are due out next week and the public will have the opportunity to comment on the reports prior to the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission hearing in December.  Many residents of the DFW area are hoping for changes to the TCEQ and RRC that will better protect their health and wellbeing and that of their families.