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Fracking Disproportionately Affects Communities of Color in Texas, Study Shows

The authors call for increased mandatory distance between disposal wells and water sources and for local community members to be more vocal in decisions regarding wastewater.

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A flare burns near a fracking well in the Eagle Ford Shale region on May 31, 2015, near Karnes City.
Aaron M. Sprecher/AP

A 2016 study from the American Journal of Public Health on fracking disposal wells in the Eagle Ford area of South Texas found a positive correlation between the proximity of a fracking wastewater disposal site and the proportion of people of color living in that area.

Fracking has been associated with numerous health and environmental risks including global warming, air pollution, water contamination, and earthquakes. These linkages are a source of contention between environmental activists and oil and gas companies.

A 2014 study in the journal Reviews on Environmental Health links the chemical additives and chemical by-products associated with fracking to neurological problems in infants and children. According to the study, there is no surefire way to keep the chemicals additives out of the water and air in disposal areas. This exposure is linked to reproductive issues such as miscarriages, pre-term birth, and low birth weight. The study recommends more research should be done into the extent of these developmental effects.

But despite these concerns, fracking has charged ahead in the U.S. It has kept the U.S. ahead in the global energy game as one of the top oil and natural gas producers, behind only Saudi Arabia and Russia. In the last two decades, there has been a dramatic increase in fracking sites. In 2000, there were approximately 23,000 hydraulically fractured wells in the U.S. As of February 2017, there were 279,615 active wells in Texas alone.

According to the EPA, each hydraulically fractured well requires that 11 to 19 million liters of liquid mixture (water, sand, and chemical additives) be shot into the ground. On average, 5.2 million liters (27 percent to 47 percent) of this mixture returns to the surface as wastewater. Most of this water cannot be recycled, and as a result is stored in large wells beneath the earth’s surface.

American Journal of Public Health states, “waste disposal sites are often unequally distributed and located away from the individuals who receive most of the benefits associated with activities that generate the waste.” The study found that in sites with less than 40 percent people of color, 10 percent of residents were located within 5 kilometers of a wastewater well, and in communities with over 80 percent people of color, 18.4 percent of residents were located within 5 kilometers of a wastewater site.

“Permitting for disposal wells is virtually ubiquitous across Texas, suggesting few siting restrictions, unlike other states,” the study states. Income and land ownership are indicators of political influence in these decisions, and with few resources to challenge these permits, low income communities become a target. This results in persisting, adverse health outcomes in communities of color.

The study recommends a decrease in toxic substances used in fracking, as well as an increased mandatory distance between the disposal wells and community water sources. It also calls upon community members to be more vocal in decisions regarding wastewater.

Though more research is needed into the full extent of the health effects of fracking, it is known that waste facilities have a negative effect on the health of communities, and they are disproportionately located in rural communities and communities of color.

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  • anonyfool

    This site had an article about how Latino voters just don’t turn out and at the current rates of voting, demographics will shift officeholders in the far future, now now. I predict this issue isn’t going to make Latino voters turn out either. The average person (not just Latino/Hispanic) just doesn’t care about long term things like this – they can only see as far as the current economy affects their well being.

  • Yetypu

    If you are serious about sorting a problem, & not just click-baiting, then please do not confuse hydraulic fracturing, a short term sealed system injection of blended fluids, with wastewater disposal, a 24/7 injection of who knows what.

    Thank you.

    • St. Anger

      After (a) comes (b). Distinguishing the two analytically may help you defend your way of life, but it is also intellectually dishonest.

      • Yetypu

        No, (b) does not come after (a). For you to claim so means you have been misled or are being misleading.

        The vast majority of oil & gas derived wastewater being injected has never been near a hydraulic fracture. Shale produces minuscule amounts of associated water in comparison to water-drive high or moderate sandstone or carbonate formations. Are you aware that in times of high oil prices, stripper wells in Oklahoma are flowed with up to 99+% water-cut? Yes, 100 bbl of water for every bbl of oil. That is where the wastewater being disposed of comes from. There are many more wells in OK than recently fracced ones.

        As I wrote, if serious about fixing the problem, ignore fraccing & fraccing waste, concentrate on the source of the wastewater …

        That is both ethical & intellectually robust.

        • Yetypu

          Please excuse OK references, was dealing with OK on another thread. Same applies to Texas, the physics doesn’t change crossing the Red River.

        • St. Anger

          I didn’t say (b) ONLY comes after (a). There are other reasons for injections, sure.

          But injection DOES come fracking.

          Logic check. Fracking creates wastewater, which is injected. That injection creates problems. Period.

          • Yetypu

            Logic check. Fracking creates less than 10% of oil & gas wastewater, which is injected. That injection creates less than 10% of injection problems. Period.

          • Jed

            guy who only commits one out of ten murders shouldn’t be prosecuted?

            this is petro-whataboutism at its best.

          • Yetypu

            Police force that only investigates less than 1 out of ten murders is not going to get the murder rate down.

            I think you’re doing the whataboutery.

            You could stop all post-frac waste injection & have no affect whatever on the quake rate.

            So are you against quakes, or just against fracs?

      • Tom Servo

        “Intellectually dishonest” describes you pretending that you know anything at all about what you are trying to talk about.

        • St. Anger

          Know nothings are sure skeptical of expertise – right up until they think they have it.

          I don’t need any expertise to know that wastewater injections include wastewater from fracking.

          That’s what you would call a truism. It’s right there in the words.

          • Not Omniscient Enough

            Shopping at the grocery store leads to trash in dumps. After (a) comes (b).

          • St. Anger

            I see what you did theee. Just like wastewater equals wastewater, you saw groceries and thought “dump.”

            Were you by chance on the toilet when you wrote that?

          • Not Omniscient Enough

            Oil and gas injection wells predominantly dispose of production brine water along with smaller volumes of flowback from the fracking process. The flowback contains some hydrocarbons and chemicals used for the frac. Disposal wells don’t typically release contaminants at the ground surface or to drinking water aquifers.

          • George Shawnessey

            Of course, disposed chemicals are safe. Why don’t you drink them for a few months and make a documentary ?

          • Not Omniscient Enough

            George, you don’t seem to understand how disposal of wastes works. You pump them several thousand feet into the ground, you burn them, or you put them in engineered landfills. The purpose of these disposal methods to make it harder for humans to be exposed to the wastes.

    • George Shawnessey

      Why don’t you do some research before you tell us about these so-called sealed systems.

      Schlumberger reported that prior to 2008 the casings of a fracking well ruptured on 5% of all fracking wells in their first year of operation, and 50% of the casings failed within 10 years. (page 8 of http://www.chesapeake.org/stac/presentations/208_Ingraffea%20Part%201.pdf)

      Since non-conventional fracking began in 2009 however, 12% of all new wells leak in their first year of operation. http://www.pnas.org/content/111/30/10955.full.pdf

      • Yetypu

        Research? I dare say I’ve forgotten more than you ever know.

        That wasn’t a Schlumberger ‘report” – it was a sales document aimed at having customers buy a ‘new improved’ system. Also, it said nothing about ‘casings failing’ – it talked about loss of integrity, something far less.

        It is a given that a pressure test is run pre-frac- no frac is ever done into a leaking system – no one attempts to pump at over 10,000 psi where there is an identified leak.

        You are broadcasting your ignorance by comparing apples & oranges.

  • Not Omniscient Enough

    A release from a disposal well would be highly unusual. Fracking chemicals don’t make people sick unless they are being dumped directly into their water supply. If you want to write a story damning fracking, stick to the amount of water that fracking wastes.

  • George Shawnessey

    See how Texas Railroad Commissioners Ryan Sitton and Christi Craddick respond to accusations that they didn’t notify Chasewood Texas citizens of well water polluted by the oil and gas industry. In fact, the Commissioners repeatedly denied that any Texas well water had ever been polluted by oil and gas.
    https://www.facebook.com/LiveableArlington/videos/1846013632347019/

    • Yetypu

      Yes, Texas Railroad Commissioners Ryan Sitton and Christi Craddock st`ted that they did not know of any Texas water well that had been polluted – at a public hearing.

      Note: the witness talked of a well plugged with a tree trunk. That puts it before World War Two.