Anger Surfaces at EPA Shale Gas Meeting

Many residents of Fort Worth are angry and scared about natural gas drilling: That much was clear from a public meeting convened there by the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday evening.

The meeting, which drew more than 600 people, was intended to gather public input ahead of an EPA study (requested by Congress) on how groundwater is affected by hydraulic fracturing, a process that involves shooting a mix of chemicals and water deep underground to break up rock and extract gas (which is plentiful in the Fort Worth area). Gas companies say the process occurs far below the water table and is safe, but a recent film called Gasland showed scenes from around the country of people being able to light their tap water on fire. One family from Bowie has done this too, and there are also reports that a Crowley woman (who has gas wells near her house) found that her hair turned orange after she washed it.

"I am frustrated and angry," said state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, a legislator who spoke at the meeting. He called for a moratorium on new fracking, and descried the "inadequacies of the Railroad Commission" (as did several other speakers).

Tim Ruggiero, a Decatur resident, said he paid hundreds of dollars to test his water just as nearby drilling started, and then another time after drilling had progressed. The second time, the tests turned up something unknown in his water; the company that conducted the test said that it bore a resemblance to MTBE.

Victor Carillo, the chairman of the Railroad Commission (which regulates the state's oil and gas industry), downplayed the "common misperception" that there are cases of groundwater contamination from fracking. Railroad Commission records, he added, do not show a single case of such contamination (a point also made by many speakers from the oil and gas industry, who say that fracking takes place far below the water table). 

"Hydraulic fracturing is a critical element in extracting this plentiful domestic energy resource," Carillo said.

Calvin Tillman, the mayor of Dish, Texas, who has been outspoken about the risks of drilling, got loud cheers. He brought a bottle of water as a prop, and told of a family whose well had tested positive for arsenic, lead and other chemicals.

"Let me guess — that's naturally occurring," he said sarcastically. To the EPA he said, "Please don't let politicians cloud your decision, as they have in Texas."

One woman drew laughs for suggesting that wells be drilled in the backyards of Chesapeake Energy's chief executive and Governor Rick Perry.

Several speakers — all of whom got two minutes each to state their views — complained that the EPA was moving too slowly. "When is EPA going to quit with these meetings and roll up its sleeves and get to work?" asked Robert Snoke, president of the Rosemont Neighborhood Association. Others asked the EPA to look into air pollution related to gas drilling, as well as water concerns.

The EPA will host three other meetings around the country, in Colorado, Pennsylvania and New York. The study is expected to begin early next year, and initial results should be ready toward the end of 2012, EPA officials said.

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