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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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