Harming Kids? Town Residents Say Fracking a Health Hazard

Across the country, oil and gas wells are behind what's known as the "shale revolution." But Denton, TX residents say the "fracking" technique is a health hazard and they're fighting back.
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Across the country, oil and gas wells are behind what's known as the "shale revolution." But Denton, TX residents say the "fracking" technique is a health hazard and they're fighting back.
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DENTON, TX -- Across the country, oil and gas wells in places like Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and Texas are behind what's known as the "shale revolution."

A horizontal drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" is the catalyst. It blasts rock with chemicals and sand, allowing access to reservoirs thousands of feet underground.

As a result, U.S. oil and gas production is at its highest level in decades, putting the United States on a level to compete with Saudi Arabia in producing liquid petroleum and Qatar and Australia in natural gas production.

Some experts believe the country is on track for energy independence by 2020.

Health, Environmental Concerns

Maile Bush is not a fan however. Last year a drilling company began fracking a little over 400 feet from her Denton, Texas, home. She and her neighbors say the process produced terrible odors and covered the area with sand.

"It blows all over everything," Bush told CBN News. "It was all over the kids' toys in the backyard and it's a carcinogen. It gets in the lungs and you can't get it back out. It's very much like asbestos."

Although the fracking ended within a few weeks, Bush said her son's asthma went out-of-control and many neighbors, struggling with breathing and nose bleeds, began keeping their children indoors.

"I know correlation doesn't prove causation but it just seems a little bit strange that if my kids go outside for an hour, they cough all night long," Bush said.

Bush and some of her neighbors are so concerned that they're now following the lead of other cities across the country. They want to ban fracking in Denton.

Denton resident Dr. Adam Briggle supports the ban. He teaches bioethics at the University of North Texas in Denton.

"They're pumping in thousands of gallons of chemicals down there and a lot of those rush out in the early days but they're coming out over the lifetime of that well," he told CBN News.

"Those chemicals are coming back out and when they come back out they volatilize at the air pressure here," he explained.

National Impact

Of course the fracking debate is big in Denton but it could impact the country. The oil and gas industry fears national attention if a Texas city votes to give the boot to drilling.

"There's never been an area in Texas that has banned drilling" explained Dr. Ed Ireland, an economist who works as executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, an outreach group funded by Barnett Shale production companies.

Ireland said a vote to ban fracking in Texas could encourage other communities to do the same.

He notes that without fracking it's impossible to drill the Barnett Shale in Texas and in many other shale reserves across the country.

"The Barnett Shale is a dense rock and when a well is drilled into that rock nothing comes out until it is hydraulically fractured," Barnett told CBN News.

"So before hydraulic fracturing is used to complete a well, as it's called, it's just a useless hole in the ground. So no one will drill a well if they cannot use hydraulic fracturing."

CBN News met Ireland at the site of a well on Bobby Jones' ranch in Denton. Jones lives on the property with his wife, children, and parents.

He said he's not worried about the fracking on his well, which sits right next to his house.

"We have not experienced any kind of problems nor have our neighbors," he said.

Who Owns the Minerals?

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) monitors air quality and states on its website that "overall air in Texas is safe to breathe."

Environmentalists, however, are raising concerns. Last year in the Virginia Environmental Law Journal Rachael Rawlins, who teaches at the University of Texas School of Law, cited "significant concern" about air quality in urban areas on the Barnett Shale because pollutants from natural gas development can cause cancer and other harmful health effects.

"We commercialized this technology very rapidly before we had much science about it. Now the science is starting to catch up and there are data-bases online that show there are real problems here, respiratory problems, skin problems," Denton resident Dr. Briggle explained.

For Jones, who is helping lead the charge to fight the proposed ban, the issue is mineral rights, that is who owns what's underground.

"Essentially what it's {the ban} doing is condemning my minerals. I've got to have the fracking process to develop those minerals," Jones said.

If the ban passes, that's where the fracking fight is headed: a court battle over mineral and property rights.

The outcome could re-shape Texas state law and draw national attention. At issue: whether state drilling regulations supersede Denton's, which would mean the city's ban in effect confiscates mineral property.

"For any government body -- state, local -- to say, 'Oh, you no longer own those mineral rights. We're taking those away. We're going to make it illegal for you to access those minerals,' that's not the American way," Ireland said.

Courts in New York State have recently upheld local fracking bans. In Colorado, legal battles continue over several and in Texas, there's serious debate about how the state Supreme Court might rule if Denton passes one.

At stake-the future of an energy boom that has put the United States on track to energy independence and literally pumped billions into our national economy.

But for parents like Bush, it's also about her family's future: their health and where they'll live.

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