Gripping Report and Film Reveal How Fracking Boom Destroys Texans' Lives
Shelby Buehring was born in South Texas and bought a home there in 1995, but he has grown to hate the area.
That's because the area's fracking boom caused his wife, Lynn, to depend on an inhaler to help her breathe properly amid an atmosphere rife with thick black smoke, strong stenches and other environmental effects from fracking near their Karnes County home.
The Buehrings are two of several people the Center for Public Integrity, InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel spoke to as part of a most-gripping report and short film package released Tuesday that exposes the impact of fracking as well as any on record.
“There's nothing we can do,” Shelby Buehring said of living near the Eagle Ford Shale play. “Nobody is listening to us.
"They're not going to stop, so we have to live with it or leave ... This is my home, and I hate it here.”
The Eagle Ford Shale play is a 400-mile-long, 50-mile-wide fracking site that extends from Leon County, in northeast Texas, to the southwestern Mexican border. As impactful as the report and short film's interviews are, the lack of oversight and care for the residents is downright appalling. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates most air emissions, has fined just two companies in the oil and gas industry from Jan. 1, 2010 to Nov. 19, 2013, despite 164 documented violations.
There were 284 complaints filed during that time, but they clearly fell on deaf ears.
“I believe if you're anti-oil and gas, you're anti-Texas,” state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, a Republican from Central Texas, said during a panel discussion in September, according to the three reporting agencies.
Those who have studied the fracking boom there aren't surprised by its unfortunate effects.
"Energy wins practically every time,” Robert Forbis Jr., an assistant professor of political science at Texas Tech University, said in the report. “It seems cynical to say that, but that’s how states see it—promote economic development and minimize risk factors.”
The report and film made waves across the country Tuesday for its revealing reporting.
“The 8-month ‘Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale’ investigation by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists reveals that fracking is literally poisoning the air children and families breathe," said John Armstrong of Frack Action and New Yorkers Against Fracking. "Polluted with toxic chemicals like hydrogen sulfide and benzene, air poisoned by fracking is entering homes, daycare centers and schools throughout entire regions.
"This investigation and the hundreds of complaints build on an already significant body of science showing that fracking inherently poisons the air and threatens people’s health."
Other shocking findings about the Eagle Ford Shale area and Texas, discovered by Inside Climate News, the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel, include:
- Thousands of oil and gas facilities, including six of the nine production sites near the Buehrings’ house, are allowed to self-audit their emissions without reporting them to the TCEQ.
- There are only five permanent air monitors installed in the 20,000-square-mile region of Eagle Ford.
- Since 2009, there has been a 100-percent statewide increase in unplanned toxic air releases associated with oil and gas production. They are known as emission events and typically caused by human errors or faulty equipment.
- The Texas legislature has cut the TCEQ’s budget by one-third since the Eagle Ford boom began—from $555 million in 2008 to $372 million in 2014. The state also cut funding for air monitoring equipment by $621,000 during the same period.
"I can control what my kids eat, I can control what goes on their skin, but I can't control the air that's coming across from the neighbors," said Amber Lyssy, an area farmer who was also interviewed.
Another resident interviewed by the entities, Cynthia Dupnik, decided to keep a daily log of what she and her family smells near their home. She said it was important to take note because new symptoms and side effects continually arise as the oil boom continues on. Nose bleeds and sores were among the effects her family experienced.
"There's something wrong about that picture, especially when we didn't have it before," she said.
The report points out that while states are responsible for enforcing the federal Clean Air Act, they are also largely responsible for regulating fracking on their grounds.
The reporters said the TCEQ refused telephone interview requests for eight months. A representative finally responded with an email stating that the air pollutants in the Eagle Shale Ford area have not been a concern "from a long-term or short-term perspective."
The interviewed residents told a much different story.
"The chemicals in the air, we can't get away from them because we live here," Lyssy said.
"We're here 24/7. We don't have another home to go to."
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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