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Natural Gas Fumes Cause Sickness In Barnett Shale Residents

November 24th, 2014

A recent New York Times report revealed that natural gas fumes from the Barnett Shale have caused hundreds of residents to experience headaches, dizziness and nosebleeds. Some residents of the North Texas area have cited health problems ranging from eye irritation to shortness of breath, which many of them have attributed to the emissions from the thousands of natural gas wells. Despite more than 400 complaints from residents and fines by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, numerous energy companies continue to pour out natural gas fumes from their wells.

Health Effects of Natural Gas Fumes

Health care professionals have documented the side effects of exposure to natural gas fumes. Short-term exposure at low levels can cause headaches and shortness of breath during strenuous activities. Long-term exposure to natural gas fumes has been linked to fatigue, dizziness, nausea and severe headaches. Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of natural gas emissions can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can prevent the body from absorbing oxygen into the bloodstream and cause death.

Weak Enforcement Fails to Stop Natural Gas Fumes

Residents who have relied on enforcement from the state’s environmental regulators have had little to no relief from the natural gas fumes. The Times reported that the TCEQ has levied only six fines in the last two fiscal years. In the summer of 2014, the commission fined Swift Energy Operating a total of $14,280 for the odors emanating from natural gas fumes around a drilling site. The year before, the drilling company Wiley Lease was fined $6,250 for releasing airborne pollutants without the correct permit.

State Inspectors Affected by Natural Gas Fumes

Despite the light enforcement of the rules regarding natural gas fumes, many state inspectors have made statements regarding the firsthand effects of these toxic emissions. Inspectors at the both the Barnett Shale sites in North Texas and the Eagle Ford Shale oil exploration projects in South Texas have reported feelings of dizziness, headaches and eye irritation from natural gas fumes. In 2012, TCEQ fined Aruba Petroleum for $35,500 in 2012 after inspectors fell ill while examining one of the company’s natural gas wells.

Resident Documents Natural Gas Fumes

Some Barnett Shale residents have taken the documentation of the natural gas fumes into their own hands. Hugh Fitzsimmons, a rancher from South Texas, noticed health problems among his family and ranch workers shortly after several exploration companies started drilling on his 11,000-acre property. When state inspectors would appear, the problems with the natural gas fumes would “disappear.” Mr. Fitzsimmons took it upon himself to record the activity at the drilling site with an infrared camera, which shows the natural gas fumes as plumes of white smoke. At last report, TCEQ is reviewing the videos, but has yet to take any decisive action.

Source: New York Times

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