Weatherford Democrat

January 20, 2014

Activists spur crowd to action

Azle residents heading to Austin Jan. 21

Weatherford Democrat


AZLE – Activists pushing for change in the oil and gas industry worked to inspire Azle area residents worried about recent earthquakes to go “make the ground shake in Austin” during a Jan. 13 forum at the Azle Community Center.

Their efforts appeared to pay off, with more than a dozen volunteers offering to serve on a steering committee, and many others committing to make their voices heard at a Texas Railroad Commission meeting in Austin Jan. 21.

The gathering of about 300 residents came on the heels of a Jan. 2 town hall at Azle High School hosted by Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter and attended by some 800 people.

Porter and other members of the commission listened but offered little help to those who claimed damages from a series of low-magnitude earthquakes and pointed to injection wells — used to dispose of liquid fracking waste — as their cause.

The commission has since announced they will hire a seismologist to explore the link.

Meanwhile, a swarm of 25-plus earthquakes — which stopped Dec. 23 — has resumed, with the United States Geological Survey recording the most recent — a 3.1-magnitude quake southeast of Reno — at 11:40 a.m. Monday, just hours before the meeting.

“You people blew us away, you folks scared the hell out of them,” Gary Hogan, of the North Central Texas Communities Alliance, said. “That’s what brought us here tonight — to help you build the coalition to help yourself.”

Others who addressed the crowd included Sharon Wilson, of the national non-profit Earthworks Oil & Gas Accountability Project; Marc McCord, of FracDallas; Calvin Tillman, former mayor of the Denton County town of Dish; and Jim Schermbeck, of Downwinders at Risk.

Reno Mayor Lynda Stokes, who later volunteered to serve on the steering committee, attended, as well as Mary Kelleher, a member of the Board of Directors for the Tarrant Regional Water District.

Tarrant County Commissioner J.D. Johnson and Rep. Lon Burnham, a member of the Energy Resources Committee, sent representatives.

Wilson, a former Wise County resident who has been writing about fracking issues since 2006, said speakers on the panel became activists after their health, property value and/or community character was negatively impacted by the oil and gas industry.

“We’ve been working together for several years trying to lessen the harm that this industry causes to people like us,” she said.

Wilson made the following statements:

• The Texas Railroad Commission estimates that 9.1 billion gallons of water are injected into waste disposal wells monthly.

• Injection in Texas increased from 1.5 billion gallons in 2005 to nearly 110 billion gallons in 2011.

• Magnitude 3 and 5 quakes have been scientifically linked to injection wells in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, with the largest a 5.7 magnitude in Oklahoma and the largest one in Texas a 4.8.

• Recycling the water used in fracking costs 75 percent more than using fresh water. A Texas Water Development Board study showed that just 2 percent of the total water used in the Permian Basin is recycled, with 5 percent recycled in the Barnett Shale and none in the Eagle Ford Shale.

Wilson said the RRC was a failure as a regulatory agency for the oil and gas industry. She proposed tighter and more transparent regulations, including:

• Seismic monitors placed over a 2-mile radius for three-to-six months before a well permit application, with the results made public.

• Information on the structural geology within a 2-mile radius of a proposed site.

• Ongoing seismic monitoring within 2 miles of permitted sites, with data available on the Internet.

• Daily monitoring on the quantity and pressure of waste injected.

• Criteria that trigger a decrease in the quantity and pressure of injection wastes.

• A mechanism to report tremors.

• A mechanism for citizens to identify the location and distance of the nearest injection well by name and serial number.

“In 2011, there were 296,000 active oil and gas wells that were not inspected,” she said. “Of 55,000 violations identified by inspectors, the Railroad Commission only sought enforcement in two percent.”

Hogan, of the NCTCA, said he became part of a Fort Worth task force in 2005 when two wells were drilled about 600 feet from his bedroom window.

He made the following statements:

• There are five active disposal well sites with seven disposal wells in the north Parker County/South Wise County area.

• The largest disposal well in the area is operated by Foxborough Energy Company of Oklahoma City, which has injected 142 million gallons of production waste in the first nine months of 2013.

• The commission has not reported the amount of waste injected into wells during the last three months — the period of the earthquakes.

“The point is that there are a lot of injection wells in this area that are putting a lot of production waste into the ground under high pressures going down 9,000 to 11,000 feet,” he said.

Hogan also pointed to places where earthquakes have stopped once injection wells were shut down, such as at DFW Airport and in Johnson County, Cleburne and Burleson.

“None of us has to be a rocket scientist,” he said. “If you do your own Google search and read what’s going on in this country, it’s more probable than not that this activity is causing citizens problems.”

Hogan proposed, in view of the repetitive earthquakes, that the TRC mandate that injection wells be re-certified for integrity in order to protect groundwater.

McCord, who worked with others to effect a strong anti-drilling ordinance in Dallas, called residents into account for electing their current representatives.

He said state Rep. Phil King and Rep. Charlie Geren vote with the oil and gas industry every time because they believe it creates millions of jobs and benefits the economy.

“The fact of the matter is that our elected officials are not representing us, they’re representing the oil and gas industry that has donated millions and millions of dollars to them ever since this thing got kicked off in the Barnett Shale,” he said.

McCord said TRC commissioners come “straight out of the oil and gas industry” with the industry donating 85 percent of the money for their political campaigns.

“People told us in Dallas that we couldn’t win, that it was an exercise in futility, but we didn’t believe them,” he said.

“As we fought on, our group got bigger and bigger and as a result of it we made a dynamic impression on our public officials and got them to give us an extremely strong gas drilling ordinance that the industry is referring to as a de facto moratorium against drilling.

“If you want to protect your homes and your families, if you want to do something about these earthquakes … It’ll happen if make your voice heard in a unified fashion before your public officials locally, down in Austin and in Washington, D.C.”

Tillman, of the small town of Dish, said unified residents made a difference in Dish as well as in other areas of the country.

“Together we bargain, divided we beg. You have to be the change,” he told them.

Tillman mentioned the Sunset Committee, which evaluates state organizations for their effectiveness, adding that dramatic changes have been proposed for the Railroad Commission in recent legislative sessions, but legislators, fearful of the industry, have taken no action.

Schermbeck, a professional environmentalist who has worked to effect change at a cement plant in Midlothian and a lead smelter in Frisco, said he thought residents could win the fight with the Railroad Commission.

“There’s a reason the TRC doesn’t want to talk about the science,” he said. “That’s because the science is all on your side.”

Schermbeck urged residents to send postcards — which were handed out during the meeting — to Rep. King, asking that he suspend operations at the injection wells while earthquakes continue — or at least until a USGS study is completed in April.

He called citizens forward to join the steering committee and commit to the Austin bus trip.