Keithville, La. – Six federal Environmental Protection Agency employees (Region 6, Dallas) and federal attorney Kenneth Holbert of the Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C., visited the Rev. David Hudson Jr. and more than 50 local residents of Panola County, Texas, on Tuesday afternoon (7/19) at the Church of the Living God, 10980 Springridge Texas State Line Road. Texas residents such as filmmaker/photographer Tammy Cromer-Campbell of Longview, local clergy and others from as far away as Wise County, Texas, and Robertson County also were in attendance.
HUD and EPA representatives came in response to grievances by local customers of the Panola-Bethany water supply, a phone conference between community members and the EPA on June 23, and a formal complaint filed by Rev. Hudson about increasing inequities and depreciation of home and property values, as well as the presence of foreign substances inserted into the water supply by EXCO Production and their private contractors. Rev. Hudson’s complaint illustrated a correlation between gas/oil drilling activities, resulting in byproducts such as saltwater injection wells polluting our air, surface water, ground water and soil.
The meeting convened shortly after 2 p.m. with an opening prayer led by Rev. Hudson. Lead Ground Water/UIC Program Manager Omar Martinez introduced his colleagues and proceeded to hear more details about the concerns of the contaminates present in the Panola-Bethany Public Water Supply and its perceived effects on the community. Access to clean, public water and real estate value depreciation is a seemingly, progressive, worsening issue for this community, in particular due to the fact that public water is supplied by the Wilcox- Carrizo aquifer that also supplies several private drinking water wells and springs in the area.
Residents in attendance complained of a change in color, odor and appearance of their “tap” water, in addition to results from private testing paid for by residents identifying a low-level presence of heavy metals such as but not limited to arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, selenium, silver and benzene, some of which are known to be toxic, cancer-causing, carcinogens. In addition to concerns about public water quality, several residents shared similar stories of disruption and diminished quality of life due to egregious drilling and transport activities conducted on a daily basis in close proximity to property owners by oil and gas producers in Panola County.
Panola County resident Eva Harris explained to Holbert that she pays for subpar public water, subsequently having few options other than to purchase bottled water suitable for drinking. In response, Holbert asked community members and EPA representatives if they felt it was fair that local residents had to pay twice for drinking water. The response was a unanimous “No.” He also asked if it was feasible for residents to water crops and livestock with bottled water. The response was the same. Later, Rev. Hudson made a direct correlation between contaminated, public drinking water and diminished property values in Panola County. Rev. Hudson ascertained that prospective (real estate) buyers come into the area, see the daily activity as undesirable (chiefly tractor-trailer activity) and are repulsed, causing them to shop elsewhere for property. In addition, residents expressed their frustration with the companies’ activities as a public nuisance.
Cancer patients present at the meeting voiced concerns of causation from drinking contaminated water from Panola-Bethany WSC. The hardship for these residents is the concern being vulnerable to the risk of infections. In addition, cancer patients are forced to purchase expensive water filtering equipment and purchase bottled drinking water. This is an extreme hardship to purchase drinking water from the WSC and bottle drinking water.
A handful of residents also expressed concerns about contamination of their private drinking water wells (some charged by the same aquifer). The EPA’s response was “We don’t monitor private wells.” EPA representatives keyed in on five public drinking water wells operated by Panola-Bethany WSC and stated that at the next sampling of these wells by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), they will obtain a split sample and send it to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lab for testing. The EPA promised closer monitoring of these wells, in addition to identifying the source of contamination. Holbert stated this problem was a serious civil rights issue, likening it to a new storm pregnant with new lightning in terms of the core issues of energy, homes and water.
For more information, contact Reverend Hudson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Donna Hoffman, Communications Coordinator, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club