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Texas Officials Turn Blind Eye To Fracking Industry's Toxic Air Emissions

More than 2,400 air emissions permits have been issued in the Eagle Ford without safeguards to limit toxic chemicals breathed in by residents.

David Hasemyer, Ben Wieder and Alan Suderman

Feb 18, 2014

KARNES CITY, Texas—In January 2011, with air quality worsening in Texas' booming oil and gas fields and the federal government beginning to take notice, state environmental regulators adopted rules to reduce harmful emissions.

The industry rebelled. So did the state legislature.

A few months later, the legislature overwhelmingly approved SB1134, a bill that effectively prevented the new regulations from being applied in the Eagle Ford Shale region of South Texas, one of the fastest-growing oil shale plays in the nation. Since then, more than 2,400 air emissions permits have been issued in the Eagle Ford without additional safeguards that would have reduced the amounts of benzene, hydrogen sulfide, formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals that drift into the air breathed by 1.1 million people.

The Texas legislature's rush to protect the oil and gas industry reflects a culture in which politics and business are almost inseparable.

State Rep. Tom Craddick, who championed the House version of SB1134, owns stock in nine oil companies, five of which are active in the Eagle Ford. At the end of 2013, the stock was worth as much as $1.5 million. That year Craddick, and the partnerships and corporations he controls, received royalties of as much as $885,000 for mineral rights. For decades he had a lucrative partnership with Mustang Mud, an oilfield supply company. Corporations, along with unions, are banned from giving directly to state candidates in Texas, but since 2000, industry employees and related political action committees have contributed more than $800,000 to Craddick's campaigns, according to an analysis of data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil & Bad Air on the Texas Prairie - MULTIMEDIA

By ICN, CPI and TWC

Feb 18, 2014

Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil and Bad Air on the Texas Prairie is an eight-month investigation by InsideClimate News, the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel.

Award-winning reporters reveal the dangers of releasing a toxic soup of chemicals into the air from oil and gas drilling and expose how little the Texas government knows about such pollution in its own state. They also show that the Texas legislature is intent on keeping it that way.

The project blends traditional and multimedia reporting—including this original video documentary, plus photographs, a slideshow and print and interactive graphics.

Watch the video, click through the slideshow and check out each publication's presentation of the project.

How We Got the Eagle Ford Fracking Story

A rundown of what we did to get this story and how people tried to thwart us.

By Lisa Song, David Hasemyer and Jim Morris

Feb 18, 2014

Inside the making of Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil and Bad Air on the Texas Prairie 

An eight-month investigation by InsideClimate News, the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel


How does one of America's biggest oil and gas booms go mostly unrecognized in the national media? Hard to say, but it has. A subject of solid local coverage, the Eagle Ford Shale play in South Texas has yet to become part of the national conversation on hydraulic fracturing—fracking—in contrast to, say, Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale or North Dakota's Bakken.

This oddity, along with the sheer size of the play—26 counties, 20,000 square miles— attracted us to the story. We focused on the air-quality impacts of drilling and related activities because chemical-laden air may prove to be an even bigger public health consequence than tainted water, which has been widely reported.

The partnership that produced Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil and Bad Air on the Texas Prairie was formed in the spring of 2013. Two nonprofit news organizations, the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News, teamed up with The Weather Channel to explore the issue of air emissions and the consequences for the people of the Eagle Ford.

Fracking the Eagle Ford: What Chemicals Are Spewed From Oil Wells - GRAPHIC

Developing oil and gas wells, like the 7,000 in the Eagle Ford Shale, releases various air pollutants, some of which are shown in this simplified diagram.

By Lisa Song and Paul Horn

Feb 18, 2014

Air pollutants are released at every stage of oil and gas extraction. This diagram shows some of the many emission sources during drilling, fracking, production and processing at an oil well in the Eagle Ford Shale.

The diagram is part of an eight-month investigation into the air pollution effects of one of the biggest energy booms in America by InsideClimate News, the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel. 

Fracking the Eagle Ford: Citizens' Complaints Reveal Air Pollution Woes - GRAPHIC

'Help us residents of South Texas before we all die,' one Texas resident pleaded to the state environmental regulator.

By Lisa Song, Sabrina Shankman and Paul Horn

Feb 18, 2014

The top environmental regulator in Texas, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), keeps a public database of citizen complaints filed with the agency. We scraped hundreds of entries to find the ones specifically related to oil and gas activity in the Eagle Ford Shale.

This graphic is part of an eight-month investigation into the air pollution effects of one of the biggest energy booms in America by InsideClimate News, the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel. 

Fracking Boom Spews Toxic Air Emissions on Texas Residents (Condensed Version)

Eight-month investigation reveals that the Texas State Legislature is more intent on protecting the industry than protecting residents' health.

Jim Morris, Lisa Song and David Hasemyer

Feb 18, 2014

KARNES CITY, Texas—When Lynn Buehring leaves her doctor's office in San Antonio she touches her inhaler to be sure it's close.

About 40 miles down the road, flares trailing smoke appear. A yellow-brown haze can fill the horizon as Buehring, 58, passes into Karnes County, where she was born. Today, the ranch house she shares with husband Shelby, 66, is at the epicenter of one of the nation's biggest oil and gas booms, with more than 50 wells within 2.5 miles.  

Known as the Eagle Ford Shale play, this 400-mile-long swath of oil and gas extraction stretches from East-Central Texas to the Mexico border. Since 2008, more than 7,000 wells have been sunk with another 5,500 approved. Energy companies, cheered by the state, envision thousands more. It's an "absolute game-changer," an industry spokesman said.

From their porch, the Buehrings can see and smell this gold rush. Three nearby processing facilities have permission to release 189 tons of volatile organic compounds, a class of toxic chemicals that includes benzene and formaldehyde, each year. That's more than Valero's Houston Oil Refinery disgorged in 2012. They also are allowed to release 142 tons of nitrogen oxides and 95 tons of carbon monoxide per year.

Texas Officials Turn Blind Eye To Fracking Industry's Toxic Air Emissions (Condensed Version)

More than 2,400 air emissions permits have been issued in the Eagle Ford without safeguards to limit toxic chemicals breathed in by residents.

David Hasemyer, Ben Wieder and Alan Suderman

Feb 18, 2014

KARNES CITY, Texas—In January 2011, with air quality worsening in Texas' booming oil and gas fields, state environmental regulators adopted rules to reduce emissions.

The industry rebelled. So did the state legislature.

A few months later, lawmakers passed SB1134, effectively preventing the new regulations from being applied in the Eagle Ford Shale region of South Texas, one of the nation's biggest oil and gas booms. Since then, more than 2,400 air emissions permits have been issued in the Eagle Ford without additional safeguards to reduce the amounts of benzene, hydrogen sulfide and other dangerous chemicals that drift into the air.

The legislature's rush to protect the oil and gas industry reflects a culture in which politics and business have become almost inseparable.

A Neighborhood Shattered: Families Emptying Out of Oil-Hit Arkansas Town

Half the families in the 62-home subdivision that bore the brunt of Exxon's spill are leaving their homes in search of a fresh start they never wanted.

By Sam Eifling and Zahra Hirji

Nov 25, 2013

American property owners battling to stop energy companies from snaking oil pipelines across their lands need only look to Mayflower, Ark., for a window into what can go wrong when pipelines burst in backyards.

Eight months after an ExxonMobil pipeline leaked Canadian oil across an Arkansas subdivision, a cloud of uncertainty looms large over the young families, singles and retirees who chose the affordable, decade-old Northwoods neighborhood to establish roots. Nearly half of them have put their houses up for sale in search of a fresh start they never wanted.

"The area is blanketed with 'For Sale' signs," said April Lane, a community health advocate who has worked with the spill victims. Twenty-nine of the development's 62 homes have either been sold to Exxon under its buy-out program or are on the open market.

(VIDEO: SHATTERED BY OIL: Exxon Arkansas Spill and the People Left Behind, Pt. 1)

Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City, Part 5

The Bloomberg administration has done what it can to require future mayors to deal with global warming. But will Bill de Blasio follow Bloomberg's lead?

By Katherine Bagley and Maria Gallucci

Nov 22, 2013

Global warming experts around the world say New York City's plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard itself from the perils of climate change are a model for other cities. But most Americans, including New Yorkers, know little or nothing about this achievement, or that it was driven by Michael Bloomberg, who next month ends his third term as New York's mayor. Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City helps fill that gap.

It is being published in five installments on our website (read Part 1Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4), but we encourage our readers to download our ICN Books App and purchase a full copy of the e-book. The ICN Books version is enhanced with video, audio and other extras, and 70 percent of the purchase price comes back to us to support our ongoing work.

Chapter Nine: Race to the Finish

The Team

In a high-rise a few blocks from City Hall, about 30 people gathered on Jan. 2, 2013 to begin creating the plan that would help New Yorkers rebuild homes and businesses damaged by Superstorm Sandy and prepare the city for future climate-related disasters. Some of them knew each other. Others didn't. Each had been recruited because of his or her very specific skills in energy, policy, infrastructure, the economy or climate change.

Seth Pinsky and Marc Ricks, the project's leaders, had spent a month selecting the people they wanted and persuading them to say yes. Many had to quit or take leaves of absence from high-profile, high-paying private sector jobs.

"There is a real sense of civic pride among New Yorkers," Pinsky said. "People recognize that [Sandy] was an unprecedented event in the city's history and they really wanted to contribute to the recovery."

At that first meeting, Pinsky laid out the team's strategy. Bloomberg wanted the plan to focus not just on protecting New York from the next Sandy, but from any other climate change threats that lay ahead.

The project was framed around three questions: What happened during Sandy and why? What could happen in the future because of climate change? What, specifically, should be done to prepare for those possibilities?

"It was a very simple, but very powerful way of organizing our work and our thinking," Ricks said.

Ricks tried to prepare the team for the personal sacrifices they'd have to make to get the project done on time.

Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City, Part 4

Sandy struck the city. Fory-four New Yorkers died. Thousands of homes were lost. The devastation pushed adaptation to the top of Bloomberg's priorities.

By Katherine Bagley and Maria Gallucci

Nov 21, 2013
Superstorm Sandy: Global Warming Is Here

Global warming experts around the world say New York City's plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard itself from the perils of climate change are a model for other cities. But most Americans, including New Yorkers, know little or nothing about this achievement, or that it was driven by Michael Bloomberg, who next month ends his third term as New York's mayor. Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City helps fill that gap.

It is being published in five installments on our website (read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3), but we encourage our readers to download our ICN Books App and purchase a full copy of the e-book. The ICN Books version is enhanced with video, audio and other extras, and 70 percent of the purchase price comes back to us to support our ongoing work. 

Chapter Seven: Find Lessons in the Storm

A Shifting Forecast

On October 11, 2012 a single wave of low pressure off the west coast of Africa traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, forming a system of clouds, wind and rain. As the storm hit the Caribbean, it gathered size and strength from the area's warm waters.

On October 24, the storm developed an eye—officially making it a hurricane. The World Meteorological Organization named it Sandy. After slamming into Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas, Hurricane Sandy turned northeast, running parallel to the eastern shoreline of the United States. 

Scientists were conflicted about what would happen to Sandy as it moved north. European weather models showed it running straight toward New York and New Jersey. The U.S. National Weather Service projected it would move out to sea.