The infrared video showed an eerie scene: waves of volatile chemicals floating from the vent pipes of an oil-and-gas processing plant in the Lost Hills region of Kern County, Calif. The gas wafting into the air looked like heat shimmering off asphalt on a hot summer's day.
The fumes are invisible to the naked eye, yet the special camera employed by researchers working with two environmental advocacy groups revealed the toxic emissions that flow from the facility every day it operates.
Based on the infrared camera video, air sampling and health surveys, a study by Earthworks and Clean Water Fund has concluded that the communities of Lost Hills and Upper Ojai in Ventura County are being exposed to dangerous air contaminants associated with oil-and-gas production.
These contaminants, which include toluene and methane, could pose a health risk based on long-term exposure, according to the 56-page report, "CALIFORNIANS AT RISK: An Analysis of Health Threats from Oil and Gas Pollution in Two Communities."
The findings also warn that people in other California communities could be subjected to similar emissions released during oil-and-gas development. The report says 5.4 million people, or 14 percent of California's population, live within one mile of a well.
For weeks, the earth shook regularly outside David Gallagher's house as the Canadian company Enbridge Inc. replaced its aging oil pipeline known as 6B.
The giant trenching tractors, bulldozers and trucks that once shook his house with the intensity of a small earthquake have disappeared and oil now pulses through the pipeline that runs 14 feet from his house near Ceresco, Mich.
The shaking stopped months ago, but Gallagher remains perhaps even more shaken by the emotional aftershocks of the experience.
Gallagher, a 45-year-old custom cabinet maker and interior contractor, said memories of living in the house will be spoiled by damage done to the land. His wife's parents built the house in 1973, five years after the original Line 6B had been buried under open farmland.
Now that the machines are gone, Enbridge has vowed to heal the landscape this spring with grass, trees and other native plants destroyed by the years of construction all along the course of the new 285-mile pipeline that stretches from Griffith, Ind. across southern Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Enbridge is deactivating the old Line 6B since the new $2.6 billion pipeline and infrastructure went fully operational late last year.
The first air monitor in the heart of the fracking-intensive Eagle Ford Shale region of south Texas has been installed and will be in operation following calibration tests to assess its accuracy.
The 40-foot-by-40-foot monitor that looks like a cargo trailer with antennas was set in place on the grounds of the Karnes County courthouse on the main street of Karnes City last month by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Placing the air monitor in Karnes County follows a recent air-quality study that tracked hydrocarbon emissions on the fringe of the region, pressure from local officials, news reports and residents worried about the air they breathe.
Yet even when the monitor begins producing air quality data, that information may not spark official concern because Texas adheres to air quality guidelines that permit exposure to higher amounts of some chemicals than other states.
LAREDO, Texas—Burch Muldrow was absolutely fed up with Lewis Petroleum.
The oil company was bulldozing dirt over a pit full of black, oily sludge on the ranch where he worked as caretaker.
Recalling a dramatic incident that happened two years ago, Muldrow said recently that he couldn't just stand by and watch. So he grabbed an empty one-gallon plastic milk jug from the bed of his pickup.
He cut off the top and scooped up some of the waste, muck he described as having the consistency of thick cake batter and smelling like diesel fuel.
Emissions from oil-and-gas production pose a significant threat to human health, and immediate steps must be taken to reduce exposure to the toxic pollution, according to an analysis of scientific studies by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
After reviewing the findings of 24 studies conducted by both government agencies and academic organizations, the evidence shows that people living both close to and far from oil-and-gas drilling are exposed to fracking-related air pollution that can cause at least five major types of health problems, according to the NRDC's report, Fracking Fumes.
The report says fracking threatens air quality as much as it does water quality and calls for an immediate moratorium on any new wells until a comprehensive analysis of health effects can be performed.
A Congressional investigation into the way states regulate the disposal of the often toxic waste generated during the fracking of oil and gas has expanded.
Rep. Matthew Cartwright, a Democrat from eastern Pennsylvania, launched the investigation in October by singling out his home state for the inquiry.
Now Cartwright, a member of the House Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation and Regulatory Affairs, has broadened the probe to include Ohio and West Virginia. Those states generate waste from hydraulic fracturing as well as accepting waste from other states, including Pennsylvania.
PEARSALL, Texas—During their careers as oil and gas inspectors for the Texas Railroad Commission, Fred Wright and Morris Kocurek earned merit raises, promotions and praise from their supervisors.
They went about their jobs—keeping tabs on the conduct of the state's most important industry—with gusto.
But they may have done their jobs too well for the industry's taste—and for their own agency's.
Kocurek and Wright, who worked in different Railroad Commission districts, were fired within months of each other in 2013. Both say their careers were upended by their insistence that oil and gas operators follow rules intended to protect the public and the environment.
The incidents Kocurek and Wright describe offer an inside look at how Texas regulates the oil and gas industry, a subject InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity have been investigating for more than a year and a half.
The investigation has found that the Railroad Commission and its sister agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, focus more on protecting the industry than the public, an approach tacitly endorsed by the state’s political leaders. The Railroad Commission is controlled by three elected commissioners who, combined, accepted nearly $3 million in campaign contributions from the industry during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Gov. Rick Perry collected a little less than $11.5 million in campaign contributions from those in the industry since the 2000 election cycle. The governor-elect, Attorney General Greg Abbott, accepted more than $6.8 million.
Wright's job with the Railroad Commission was a particularly important one.
Two former oil and gas inspectors for the Texas Railroad Commission, Fred Wright and Morris Kocurek, were fired within months of each other in 2013.
They say they were fired because they demanded that the oil and gas industry strictly abide by state regulations designed to protect the public and the environment. The inspectors' responsibilities included keeping old and new wells safe and making sure the industry's often-toxic waste didn't become a hazard.
Below are links to some of the hundreds of pages of commission records that InsideClimate News used to document the praise, promotions, censure and exile that marked the men's careers. The documents were obtained by filing requests under the Texas Public Information Act.
"Don't mess with Texas," says the advertising slogan that has grown into a defiant unofficial state motto.
After a recent historic vote to ban fracking in the college town of Denton—and industry's lightning-fast response—the new refrain might read: "Don't Mess With Big Oil and Gas."
That's the bottom line for business and legal experts who surveyed the landscape after 59 percent of Denton's voters approved the ban.
Barely 13 hours after the polls closed on Nov. 4, oil and gas lawyers were in court, suing the town.
So, for that matter, was the state of Texas, where production of oil and gas reached $109 billion last year.
The overwhelming vote made Denton the first city to ban fracking in Texas, a state whose history, economy and culture are inextricably linked to oil.
The industry's swift reaction offers perhaps cautionary national implications for other cities seeking to follow Denton, the home of North Texas State University, just north of Dallas.
Unlined open-air wastewater pits brimming with the toxic leftovers of fracking and other types of oil and gas development are threatening California's air and water quality, according to a study by two national environmental organizations.
A visit to a series of wastewater pits in California's Central Valley that sickened researchers prompted the study, according to the authors. Oil and gas drilling has been generating vast amounts of waste in the region for decades.
The groups' findings further document the risks of using unlined pits for oil and gas wastewater disposal and challenge whether California's regulatory system adequately addresses the hazards. The report highlights threats to water, air and health; documents regulatory failures; and proposes immediate remedies.
"The discharge of wastewater into unlined pits threatens water resources, including potential sources of drinking and irrigation water, and impacts air quality due to the off-gassing of chemicals from the wastewater," according to the 28-page report, "In the Pits."