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Chesapeake Energy Vents Foul Gasses in Texas, Day Four; Residents Report Illness

January 14, 2012

Residents of shale country in many states are severely impacted by both water and air pollution, a new peer-reviewed study has found. Right now, Texas residents say they are getting no response from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) or the industry, despite over four days of calls reporting misery and illness from contaminated air. Texas bloggers write that local media have been “given the red light” on covering the sickening vapors being vented from Chesapeake Energy tanks. Area residents, including citizen gas drilling experts, believe the tanks contain flowback (toxic fracking waste) from gas drilling operations in the Barnett Shale.

Two reports are excerpted below, with links to photos and video. The first, “Arlington fracking flowback misery day four,” is from Texas Sharon on her award-winning blog “Bluedaze.” The second post is from “Dallas Drilling”: “Day four of contaminated air spill, residents sick, local media told to keep quiet.”

Arlington fracking flowback misery day four

by TXSHARON on JANUARY 12, 2012


Chesapeake Energy continues to vent the flowback tanks at theFulsom Fulson site in Arlington. Residents complain of dizziness and strong, foul, pungent, sewer-like odors. Chesapeake seems to be following this recipe.

To see what this Arlington community is being exposed to, see the presentation given at a Physicians Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy public health conference by Wilma Subra, MacArthur Genius Award Winning Chemist and Board member of Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

Human Health Impacts Associated with Chemicals and Pathways of Exposure from the Development of Shale Gas Plays.

To read a report detailing impacts of families and communities in the Barnett Shale, read FLOWBACK: How the Texas Natural Gas Boom Affects Health and Safety.

Statement of concern by American Lung Association: Lung Association Expresses Concern Over Air Pollution From Fracking

Read the full post from Texas Sharon’s famous blog Bluedaze, with photos, comments, and video.

Here is the excerpt and photo from the “Dallas Drilling” post. Thanks to an alert Susquehanna County, PA activist for link.

Local media has been given the red light on covering day four of an air venting operation in Arlington, Texas by Chesapeake Energy. Our contacts have told us that no one has from Chesapeake,TCEQ, or local media have responded to reports of the contaminatedair spill or the reported illnesses from residents in Arlington.

Context: Last week at the national conference on gas drilling health impacts  I spoke with an environmental scientist in Texas whose assistant nearly died after inhaling the mist from a tank containing gas drilling fluids. His trachea enlarged, he began having difficulty breathing, and because the nearest hospital was 25 miles away she had to put his head in a freezer to save his life. I mentioned this incident because, if you read the Texas blog post comments, you should understand that when Texans living in the Barnett Shale region say, “if you inhale, you better have your buddy ready to drive you to the hospital,” they aren’t joking.

This Chesapeake Energy air spill should be national news. For Marcellus Shale region residents, who have only been experiencing foul “odor events” for a few years — just the beginning —  it serves as a warning of increasingly sickening air as fracking increases.

Look for a post soon about how to comment on compressor stations here in Pennsylvania, and please hop to it when that post is up!

  1. Nick permalink
    January 14, 2012 3:13 pm

    You do realize the picture shows steam coming off those temporary frac tanks, right?

    • January 14, 2012 5:14 pm

      Dear Nick,

      Did you bother to click over to my blog where the original article is posted? Yeah, I thought not. Had you bothered to check it out you would have seen the link to the tank supplier verifying that these tanks are made to handle the “dangerous gases” in flowback.

      The residents–even the pro drilling mineral owners–have complained loudly about the strong noxious fumes in that “steam.” They have also experienced health impacts. The police office and fireman who responded to the 911 calls also experienced health impacts.

      This is a common practice. I’ve been watching this happen for about a decade now.

      • Nick permalink
        January 16, 2012 10:38 am

        I’m not trying to be insulting. Yes I went to your blog and several other links you had identified.

        Are they not allowed to flare the gases coming off the well during completion?

        If they do in fact have a gas connection on the location, the gas pipeline company won’t take gas it can’t sell AND if it is flowback gas from the completion, that won’t be “pipeline quality” gas and NEEDS to be flared or at least redirected away from all animals, not just vented off the storage tanks.

        I always understood that when water evaporates as steam, it leaves the impurities behind. BUT, if they are venting the flowback gas, THAT is not good to breath. If it hasn’t ended by now it should soon. HOPEFULLY, the State is there & has an idea on how to flowback the next well differently.

        Also, those tanks don’t handle gas. they contain fluids. If there are tanks on location that look like big propane tanks THOSE handle gas.

  2. Iris Marie Bloom permalink
    January 14, 2012 4:26 pm

    Aha, “steam” sounds so innocent, doesn’t it? Let me recommend to all a book by David Michaels, “Doubt is their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.” Using a word like “steam” is a great example of doubt-creation because it implies frac tank emissions can’t hurt anybody because “a little steam never hurt anybody,” right? My guess — and it’s only a guess, of course — is that the goal of such a comment is less to establish accuracy than to attempt to undermine and distract attention from serious pollution and documented health impacts.

    Anyone who follows the links from Texas Sharon’s blog will find documentation, including the FLOWBACK report and a statement of concern by the American Lung Association. And anyone who reads the Bamberger / Oswald study cited above will be disturbed by the sudden death of so many animals in 6 gas drilling states, as well as documentation of human and animal illnesses. As she points out, in two cases where large numbers of cows died after being exposed to fracking contaminants (in water), there was an accidental “control group” of cattle not exposed, which remained healthy and had normal births.

    That’s peer-reviewed science, which is threatening to the industry, so it’s better to manufacture doubt asap by making a vague claim regarding fumes from tanks in Texas which I am not, at this moment, personally measuring. Air sampling is expensive and the industry is counting on most citizens to not have the equipment to measure toxic contaminants in the air, just as it’s useful for the industry when impacted residents don’t have proven baseline water tests.

    It is NOT useful for the industry when a worker nearly dies from inhaling mist from water containing gas drilling fluids and that is reported publicly, as this blog post did. So distraction must be accomplished quickly. Distraction and doubt are perfect companions.

    Manufacturing doubt is a tactic perfected by Big Tobacco and taken to new lengths by Big Gas. Here is a bit of context on how it worked for Big Tobacco.

    “In 1954, the tobacco industry realized it had a serious problem. Thirteen scientific studies had been published over the preceding five years linking smoking to lung cancer. With the public growing increasingly alarmed about the health effects of smoking, the tobacco industry had to move quickly to protect profits and stem the tide of increasingly worrisome scientific news. Big Tobacco turned to one the world’s five largest public relations firms, Hill and Knowlton, to help out. Hill and Knowlton designed a brilliant Public Relations (PR) campaign to convince the public that smoking is not dangerous. They encouraged the tobacco industry to set up their own research organization, the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), which would produce science favorable to the industry, emphasize doubt in all the science linking smoking to lung cancer, and question all independent research unfavorable to the tobacco industry. The CTR did a masterful job at this for decades, significantly delaying and reducing regulation of tobacco products.”

    That’s the intro to an excellent post on manufacturing doubt which I found here:

    That same post includes some highly specific numbers regarding the millions of dollars the fossil fuel industry spends lobbying Congress, so check it out. As long as animals and people are being hurt by shale gas drilling — and they are — while lobbyists are pummeling legislators to rush the gas boom fast forward unhindered by constraints about public health, we’d do best to pay attention to the big picture and not allow someone trying to manufacture doubt to do so unless he’s got the documents to prove, via real-time air sampling, that there’s nothing but pure, healthy water in that there steam.

    • January 14, 2012 5:21 pm

      They are very skilled at using words. Every statement should be examined carefully. Almost everything they say has some shred of truth in it with the rest being an out-right lie.


      “We have no plans to install compressors on this site.” Translation: I do not have the plans because the plans are still on Joe’s desk.

      “We will never install a compressor station on this site.” Translation: Define compressor station. Those 3 compressors we just installed are just compressors, they do not constitute a compressor station.

      “Drilling does not cause earthquakes.” Translation: That drilling causes earthquakes is not in the spotlight. It’s the fracking and waster disposal…

      And so forth.

      Thank you for the book recommendation. I’m off to buy it now.

    • Nick permalink
      January 14, 2012 10:00 pm

      Iris, My comment was meant to suggest that if the sickness is caused from something airborne, SOMEONE needs to check what is coming out of the wellbore & how that is being handled. Is the gas being flared or pumped down a pipeline? Is the fluid produced collected in open top tanks or sealed stock tanks? With as many people getting sick as there seem to be, SOMEONE should have already tested the air..I don’t believe the Texas Health Department would ignore such a claim near so many people. The Barnett production is closer to “civilization” than most oil & gas exploration & you would think that the operators would be doing their best to minimize problems..How will it help them if they don’t?

      I’m really not sure why referring to other blogs or other industries behavior in different times has to do with this situation?

      • January 16, 2012 10:55 am

        Dear Nick,

        We live here and deal with irresponsible extreme energy extraction every day so we know where they toxics are coming from. In this instance, they are coming from the venting flowback tanks. This is a common industry practice. Other times the toxics might come from leaks–fugitive emissions occur at every stage of shale gas production–or from accidental or scheduled releases.

        The TCEQ has conducted some air testing but they rarely seem capable of finding any violations even when the investigators admit suffering from health impacts while conducting the testing. Of course, the TCEQ has been caught committing fraud more than once so that comes as no surprise. No matter what you might or might not believe about state testing in Texas, we Texans have to live with the realities of state agencies that are soaked with oil and gas money.

        Residents are left to bare the burden of expensive private testing to prove they are being exposed.

        You make an excellent point about operators minimizing problems and it is a point that I make quite often. With all the negative PR, I believe they are best served to operate in a way that causes the least impacts possible so obviously, they are incapable of keeping their product in the pipes and protecting public health and safety. They need to innovate.

        IMO as one who has dealt with extreme energy extraction for about a decade now, Iris’ points are absolutely applicable.

  3. January 14, 2012 5:23 pm

    I am also from Arlington and for Christmas Eve I took this video and experienced first hand what I attribute to my own health effects when shopping downwind. When I called the TCEQ and asked them why these tanks are not covered, they said it was under pressure and would cause a geyeser.

  4. January 14, 2012 7:26 pm

    The greedy gas and oil companies will kill us all just to make $$$$$$$$$$$$$!!

  5. rebecca roter permalink
    January 15, 2012 10:27 am

    Flowback in tanks allows for chemical evaporation: same principle as open pits used to let flowback evaporate into the air out west in drier climates. Open evaporative pits do not work here in the Northeast. One alternative to flaring a well after fracking, is to let the water flow back into tanks…like the red one in the photo in Texas. I witnessed this at the Smithfield Cabot Wellpad in Springville PA Susquehanna County this past summer. As I drove past the pad at night..I could smell a horrible odor…like burned pig manure. The bright ligthts illumiated the pad, and I saw what looked to be thick smoke blowing in the evening breeze, copious air emissions. I got a terrrible taste on my tongue, and it smelled horrible. I had never seen this. I asked the on site supervisor what was occurring: he said the well was already hooked up to a pipeine, without flaring. Instead of burning off the “dirty gases” including the methane to release the pressure and let the well “give back water”, they hooked the well up to the pipeline and were catching the flowback in the frack tanks. The gas would be cleaned up “finished”at the compressors. He explained this was an alternative to flaring when there was a pipeline to hook the well into. He also said….not to breathe too deeply and NOT to light a cigarrette.

  6. Frank Finan permalink
    January 16, 2012 11:23 am

    I was at the same Cabot site that Rebecca was at (Smithholm well in Springville Twp,, Susquehanna County, PA) and took some pictures. The area around the site STUNK. We filed an order complaint and when we returned the following nite everything was moved out.
    Perhaps there was steam venting along with the HAPS and VOCs, but it certainly was not “just steam”.

  7. Frank Finan permalink
    January 17, 2012 9:45 am

    Here are some videos I took with my FLIR GasFindIR optical gas imaging camera, it shows what the naked eye can not see. These were filmed in PA, TX AR and LA, most were in residential areas.

    Be sure to look at these first, proof that it picks up more than just “steam”. (my gas tank) (butane lighter)

  8. Frank Finan permalink
    January 17, 2012 9:47 am

  9. Adam permalink
    January 30, 2012 6:28 am

  10. Iris Marie Bloom permalink
    January 31, 2012 6:27 pm

    Adam, thank you so much! That video is beautiful and powerful; I’m going to re-post it. It’s the best conclusion to this stream of comments — it says it all, with the least words.


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