Fracking shakes-up the Texas Railroad Commission

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North Texas residents come to Austin to discuss the recent earthquakes apparently caused by natural gas drilling affecting their communities.

Earthquakes!  Add earthquakes, tremors and sinkholes to the list of possible negative consequences Texans are facing as a result of the growth of oil and gas hydraulic fracturing (fracking) throughout the state.

The most recent outcry is coming from a group of citizens living in the Azle and Reno communities northwest of Fort Worth who have been beset by a series of earthquakes they believe are linked to the numerous oil and gas wells that have recently sprung-up in and around their community. On January 2nd, over 850 citizens attended a public meeting with Railroad Commissioner David Porter in Tarrant County, many demanding that the State take immediate action.  Among the ideas floated by the community was the imposition of a moratorium on injection wells.

During the meeting, Porter declined to take immediate action without studying the issue further.  However, shortly after the hearing, the Railroad Commission announced that it had committed to hiring a seismologist to investigate the links between earthquakes and fracking.

In the meantime, State Representative Jim Keffer (R-Eastland), Chair of the House Energy Committee, named a subcommittee to look at seismic activity in areas with high oil and gas activity. Heading up the subcommittee is State Representative Myra Crownover (R-Denton).

Promising to study the issue has done very little to placate the North Texas residents who have witnessed over 30 earthquakes since November.  Local activists, including many Sierra Club members, have organized, deciding to come to Austin to confront state leaders in person.  On January 21st, a busload of North Texans, including the Mayor of Reno, came to the state capital to address the three commissioners of the Railroad Commission directly, and took their complaints to the legislature by meeting with legislative staff.

Sierra Club believes that while legislation could help, the Railroad Commission  has the authority to further regulate fracking and injection activities to prevent seismic activity. Ohio, Arkansas and other states are already looking at this issue.

Seismic induction is only the latest negative impact from fracking to affect Texas communities. In South Texas, the flaring and venting of natural gas from fracked oil and gas wells has skyrocketed, with the number of permits issued to flare and vent gas exploding by 3000% in the last five years.

High-water use and overall air emissions – including fugitive methane emissions – from fracking activities makes it one of the most environmentally costly energy sources in the state.  Yet, state and national leaders remain committed to pursuing natural gas as an alternative to dependence on foreign oil.  The Sierra Club will continue to push for better inspections, regulations and enforcement of oil and gas operations.  An increasing number of Texans who go no farther than their backyard to witness the negative impacts of drilling on their communities will join us in our fight.

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